MSH Supports Launch of Nairobi’s School of Public Health

When the University of Nairobi’s School of Public Health was officially launched last month, it was the culmination of a twenty-year-old dream, brought to fruition by a team of persistent, dedicated Kenyan academics and the more recent support of Management Sciences for Health (MSH).

At the ceremonial opening of the school, Professor Jacob Kaimenyi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs said, “The future belongs to the people who believe in the duty of their dreams.” He may have been speaking specifically of Dr. Dismas Ongore, the Director of the new school, and Professor Isaac Kibwage, the Principal of the College of Health Sciences, who together overcame institutional resistance and limited resources to realize their dream.

The School of Public Health was conceptualized more than two decades ago, but the recent leadership of Dr. Ongore and Professor Kibwage spurred University officials to finally see the great contributions it could make to current national and international initiatives like Kenya’s Vision 2030 on Health and the Millennium Development Goals.

MSH’s Leadership, Management and Sustainability project in Kenya (LMS/Kenya), funded through USAID/Kenya’s Office of Population and Health and mandated to address the gaps in health sector leadership and management in Kenya, worked with the School of Public Health to develop and publish a strategic plan for the school’s first three years of operation. The plan, according to Dr. Ongore, “was like a compass that sets us on our way.”

LMS/Kenya assisted in organizing and funding the school’s high-profile launch which included a full-page supplement highlighting the institution’s vision and mission in the Daily Nation, a nationally-read newspaper.
   
“The Department of Community Health was established in 1967 alongside the other departments in the School of Medicine so it was one of the oldest departments in the School of Medicine,” Dr. Ongore said in an interview. However, the department, which offered a Masters in Public Health, was constrained by budget and stature from conducting or participating in influential and ground-breaking research.

For many years, proposals went back and forth between Community Health faculty and the University to elevate the department to a full-fledged school and in August 2010, the Senate finally approved the upgrade. The school was officially launched in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on February 22, 2011.

Professor George Magoha, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, who cut the ribbon, spoke at the launch ceremony of his own early resistance to the proposal when he was the dean of the School of Medicine prior to taking the position of Vice-Chancellor. “At the time,” he said, “I was not wise enough to see the need for a School of Public Health.” Now, however, he is fully committed to supporting the new school saying, “I will do whatever it takes.”

Enthusiastic support was also expressed at the launch by representatives from the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, the Ministry of Medical Services, USAID, and Management Sciences for Health.

LMS/Kenya Project Director Karen Caldwell called the strong leadership of Dr. Ongore and Professor Kibwage “visionary,” adding that, “we are glad to continue our support to the University of Nairobi through the School of Public Health to develop a Masters program in Health Systems Management. This program will be critical since currently, health professionals who have an interest in pursuing Health Systems Management as a career path have few options in training available to prepare them for key management roles.”

The school will face many challenges ahead, including resource development, student recruitment, curriculum development and infrastructure expansion. But now, thanks to the efforts and vision of Dr. Ongore, Professor Kibwage, Professor Magoha and the entire SPH faculty, it is better able to work with health sector partners and stakeholders to address the public health needs of the Kenyan population and achieve their vision of “a world class School of Public Health committed to excellence in scholarly pursuit, scientific research and service delivery.”

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