University of Bergen’s development-success in Zambia

Centre for International Health has played a vital role to Zambia’s first School of Public Health, through a long-term academic partnership with the University of Zambia.

Knut Fylkesnes CIH
NORWEGIAN-ZAMBIAN HEALTH COLLABORATION: Thanks to Knut Fylkesnes and Charles Michelo, Zambia has got its first School of Public Health. Richard Banda (left) has been a part of the CIH partnership model and is now head of research at the Statistical Office in Zambia. He has also hold a position in the Health Ministry of Zambia.
Kim E. Andreassen, University of Bergen

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From the 1990s onwards, Professor Knut Fylkesnes at the Centre for International Health (CIH) has worked with HIV and public health-challenges in Zambia. He established the academic partnership between the CIH and the University of Zambia in 2002 for joint research and institutional capacity building.

Local capacity-building

As a result, CIH has contributed substantially to build local research and leadership capacity in Zambia by offering locals education at Master’s and PhD level in Bergen, on condition that  they return to their home country to strengthen the local capacity after finishing their education.

Thanks to this partnership  Zambia is now about to open its national School of Public Health. The official opening is planned for January 2017. Public health training and research has till now been offered at the Department of Public Health, School of Medicine at the University of Zambia. With the capacity building achievements resulting from the partnership with CIH, this department has gradually extended training programmes including the establishment of a joint master in epidemiology.    

“We have finally got our first School of Public Health in Zambia thanks to Knut Fylkesnes’ long effort in the CIH programme,” says Professor Charles Michelo, who is head of the Department of Public Health and was Fylkesnes’ first PhD candidate from Zambia, and later the first professor of public health in Zambia.

UiB students get jobs in government

Michelo says that those  55 who have been trained are in positions in different public sectors like government agencies, universities and both public and private research institutions. They have all made a great impact on research and education.

One of the returning students is Dr. Richard Banda, who recently defended his PhD thesis at UiB on maternal mortality in Zambia. After he finished his Master’s degree in Bergen, he was offered a three-year assignment in Zambia’s Ministry of Health. After this, he became head of research at the Governments Central Statistical Office of Zambia, where he still works. He is highly satisfied with the exchange model CIH and UiB offer.

“For us Zambians, the University of Bergen’s Master’s and PhD degrees offer an unique opportunity to perform research and establish contacts with research networks from all over the world. This global perspective on global health is valuable for us to bring back to our institutions in Zambia,” Banda says.

In addition to being head of research at Zambia’s Statistics office, Banda also holds a part-time position at the soon to open School of Public Health.

“Public Health is the key for understanding and preventing epidemics in a country,” Banda believes.

Appreciated by the government

According to Banda, the idea for the School of Public Health has always been appreciated by the Government of Zambia. The main challenge, however, for a poor country like Zambia is to allocate sufficient resources to hire qualified personnel for education and research.

“The first question the Government ask is if an institution has enough personnel to teach and manage such a school. Thanks to CIH, where personnel has been educated at Master’s and PhD level in subjects such as statistics, epidemiology, health promotion, mental health and health economics, the Government realised the necessary know-how was there to support the School of Public Health,” Banda underlines.

“The Government itself has got the possibility to recruit highly qualified personnel as a result of the CIH model, which has had a positive impact of supporting the school,” Banda believes.

Running the partnership

Professor Knut Fylkesnes has had a hand in a lot of local capacity building at the Department of public Health, and his relentless effort has contributed strongly to establishing the School of Public Health.

“It is our partnership that has developed qualified personnel in public health to the University of Zambia. I have participated in most decisions and have been tutor for most of the candidates and academic publications from the partnership. It has been extremely challenging in many ways, but at the same time interesting to witness the growth of the partnership,” Knut Fylkesnes says, adding with a smile.

“Without Charles and our shared vision of a School of Public Health, this would not have been possible. There have been so many barriers. One needs to have a strong faith, but we made it in the end.”