Two American Public Health Experts were last week hosted by Njala University. Kathy Cahill-Director of Partnership for the International Association of National Public Health Institute (IANPHI) at the Global Health Institute Secretariat in Emory University USA; and Dr Peter Bloland-Director of Public Health Systems and Health Work Force Development at the Center for Disease Control (CDC), USA were in Sierra Leone from 22nd -27thJuly 2012 both on the invitation of NUPHA in order to assess Sierra Leone’s Health System Operation, Disease Surveillance, and to determine the country’s readiness for the setting up of a National Public Health Institute (NPHI).
The delegates held talks with the Vice Chancellor and Principal of the Njala University Professor Abu Sesay and later the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Njala University, Bo Campus Professor GMT Roberts.
The delegates visited the Njala University Hospital where they held talks with the Senior Medical Officer Dr. Gai-Sama and the Community Health Officer (CHO) in charge. They also visited the Bo Base World Vision Headquarters, Bo Government Hospital, Mercy Hospital, the Toulane Lassa Fever Laboratory at the Kenema Government Hospital, the Directors of National Reference Laboratory (NRL) and Disease Prevention and Surveillance in Lakka and Freetown, and the US Embassy where they held talks with the Country Director of USAID. NUPHA Special Director and Lecturer Njala University’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences Jia Kangbai noted that this is the right time for the country to showcase its need for the establishment of a National Public Health Institute.Mr. Kangbai said that a National Public Health Institute will go a long way to help mitigate the myriad of Public Health catastrophes taking place in the country at the moment.
At the Bo Government Hospital the delegates met with the District Medical Officer, Dr. Moosa and his team who briefed them about the operation of the Bo District Health Management Team (DHMT) as well as the challenges the DHMT is facing. The DMO said the work done at the district level alongside the health data collected and utilized by the Bo DHMT are being done by Community Health Officers (CHO) who are trained by the Njala University. The DMO noted that should the National Public Health Institute comes to reality every effort should be made to ensure that the Njala University is strengthened since according to him it is the Njala University that trains personnel while the Ministry of Health and Sanitation only employs them.
Similar sentiments were also expressed by the outgoing Medical Superintendant of the Bo Government Hospital, Dr Koroma who called for the creation of such institute at the Njala University since according to him the MoHS will not be in the position to train epidemiologists and Community Health Officers who do most of the work at District Level. Dr Koroma informed the delegates that all what is needed to be done is to assist Njala University towards the creation of such institute. He further thanked NUPHA for initiating the idea with IANHPI and the CDC.
The Directors of Disease Prevention and Surveillance and the National Reference Laboratory Dr. Amara Jambia and Dr. Isata Wurie expressed their desire for an NPHI. On her part the Director of the NRL said her greatest joy will be for her to see Sierra Leone have a Public Health Institute. While taking the delegates on a conducted tour of the NRL at Lakka, Dr Wurie noted that the NRL has over the years received regular grants from international organizations like CDC, WHO, UNICEF and the Association of Public Health Laboratory among others. Dr Wurie said the NRL is now able to perform diagnosis relating to HIV and AIDS, Yellow Fever, Lassa fever, tuberculosis, and other tropical infections. She however lamented the lack of research in the NRL. She also stressed the need for training to boost the human capacity of the MOHS in a bid to be able to produce ground breaking medical and public health research especially in the field of public health.
On his part the Director of Disease Prevention and Surveillance at the MOHS; Dr. Amara Jambia thanked NUPHA for establishing contacts with CDC and IANPHI as well as inviting the delegates to Sierra Leone. The Director welcomed the need for the setting up of an NPHI for Sierra Leone and called for such NPHI to embrace and include Njala University since it is the only university in Sierra Leone that is responsible for the training of Public Health Officers in the first place. He said currently the MOHS sends its personnel to Njala University for training and adds that the MOHS only employs health personnel. He said that because the bulk of the Health Personnel operating at District Level are Community Health Officers. He said it will be wise for Njala University to be included in every bit of the arrangement for the formation of an NPHI.
According to Dr Peter Boland, an NPHI includes four thematic areas; Public Health Management and Administration, National Public Health Laboratory, Training and Research. He said the CDC is greatly interested in the training and research aspect of a NPHI and that training usually involves both field practical exercise and didactics works on epidemiology and health statistics. The CDC expert said now that they have firsthand experience of the Public Health situation in Sierra Leone they definitely have an idea of where to start and who to contact as far as an NPHI for Sierra Leone is concerned. The American Public Health Expert also said that CDC usually assists a country towards achieving an NPHI by either providing assistance in upgrading existing public Health structures or by setting up an entirely new Public Health system from the start.