Archive for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Uganda July 2016 – the Global Health Academy Summer School

Earlier this month, I was extremely fortunate to take part in the Global Health Academy summer school held this year in Makerere University, Uganda. For the first time, this year, invitations were extended to our program, fulltime Infectious Diseases by research masters students –in addition to the part-time online global health, eHealth, wildlife conservation, public health and infectious diseases master’s students. Tempted by the idea to get out of the lab and meet fellow students studying from distance, I immediately seized the opportunity, and, despite being close to the hand-in deadline for my thesis, it was totally worth it! Since it all happened really quickly and last minute, I didn’t really have time to create any expectative but had I had any, the experience definitely went beyond: what an experience!

The event and subsequent discussions that came up during the study sessions were a perfect illustration of the concept of One Health: sharing everybody’s opinions and point of view on different topics approached differently by students from different fields and disciplines, seeing how interconnected we all are and how interdisciplinary approaches are the best way to solve global issues. This highlighted the need for more communication and collaboration between disciplines: environment, health, technology, conservation, everything needs to be linked and if we can bring all those fields together towards a common objective, we can reach a much wider audience and raise awareness much more easily, hence solving problems a lot more efficiently.

Additionally, it was extremely inspiring to hear about other students’ projects and listen to the stories of alumni students; realise how their master’s program empowered them to set up their own projects and use the skills and knowledge they learnt to practically benefit their communities and make a difference. As the quote says: a picture is worth a thousand words, in this case, having the chance to see first-hand some of the great things some students are achieving was worth a thousand lectures. I was very encouraging to see how, despite being students, we can already start making a change and, through this kind of opportunities, network and get our classmates involved, support each other sharing our skills or spreading awareness and share ideas.

The trip to Budongo was the best example: seeing how Caroline is leading a dedicated team to fight for the protection of endangered species such as chimpanzees and build a strong hub of research on the species to better understand and design conservation strategies. The long walks patrolling in the search for snares also showed us how challenging and complex it can be to open the dialogue with traditional communities and find for them alternative ways of subsistence that do not harm the wildlife and surrounding ecosystem.

There is still a lot to be done, but this is the proof that with hard work and dedication, alumni of the University of Edinburgh are directly contributing to making a positive change across the world.

Elena Perez Fernandez, MSc Global Health: Infectious Diseases, University of Edinburgh

My Ugandan Global Health Academy, Summer School Experience!

When I received the invitation for the Global Health Academy summer school in Uganda, I have to admit I was hesitant.

After just finishing my first year on the MPH course, I wondered if I could muster the motivation to do one more minute of work until the next term. However, after re-reading the course itinerary numerous times, I finally persuaded myself it was the right decision to go.  The itinerary was just too tempting; 4 days of summer school and 2 bonus days of chimp tracking in the forests of Budongo?

With flights booked, I ran over the checklist for Kampala and Budongo again and packed my things. Budongo was going to be quite different from Kampala and we needed to be prepared for that environment. We were given the link to the Budongo Wildlife website beforehand which gave full information on where we would be staying and everything we needed, including how to behave whilst visiting the forest.

The university discussion page went over accommodation and transport in both Kampala and Budongo and all my questions were answered quickly and informatively.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from the school. I felt quite out of my depth at first, with my limited global health experience, and having only just completed my first year? However, my fears were soon put to rest as this scary bunch actually turned out to be some of the friendliest and motivational, individuals I have had the pleasure to share a room with, staff and lecturers included.

Makerere University pic 1 Makerere University pic 2









My co-students were a group of professionals, from all over the world, studying a number of different disciplines at various stages in their studies, however, it soon became evident that no matter what background we came from, we all shared a passion for making the world a better place.   I felt immediately at ease.

Dr Ricky Okwir, University of Edinburgh Alumni

Dr Ricky Okwir, University of Edinburgh Alumni









To briefly summarize: The lectures were inspiring; the activities were thought provoking and the teamwork brilliant! Everyone got stuck in and shared all they had to share.  There were many brave people who stood up to give presentations on their topics, (myself not included, but I will certainly be on the list for next year) and we received lectures from faculty ranging from epidemiology to simply how to reference properly.  There were many questions and many discussions, but we always had time for a laugh, cup of tea and deep fried cup cake!!

The summer school not only taught me a great deal academically, but also gave me the opportunity to learn from other cultures and nationalities, the value they put on their environments, from a social, medical and environmental perspective. There were so many ideas and all added something to the wealth of knowledge the summer school brought about.

Of course, our experience in the Makerere University was just the start of our adventures. We still had the trip to Budongo to look forward to.

Accommodation at Nyabyeya Forestry College

Accommodation at Nyabyeya Forestry College

Accomm Budongo 2

After a few hours bus trip (stopping off to investigate the local culture on the way) we arrived at what I would describe as a little haven, right out of a holiday magazine. Our very basic but comfortable accommodation set amidst the luscious forest at the Nyabyeya Forestry College. It was certainly a sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of Kampala.

We travelled a little way to the Budongo Wildlife Reserve after settling in, where we were welcomed with dinner, tea and coffee, a very informative introduction to the reserve and a briefing on what we could expect from the next couple of days.

What a couple of days we had! We participated in monkey and chimp tracking with highly skilled staff who also gave us an introduction to the whole ecosystem of the forest.  We met other visiting teams who were studying the forest and the surrounding areas and enjoyed discussing their experiences, having been based there for the last 4 weeks.

We were not just treated as passive visitors, but expected to report back on the day’s findings. Our feedback was very much valued and gave us a chance to really get thinking in groups, about things that would contribute to the continued success of the research centre and surrounding areas.  We discussed improving awareness and promotion of the project, and ways that would promote the engagement of the community.  I suddenly found myself utilizing a number of concepts we had learnt throughout the MPH course and the lectures we had received earlier in the week.
Budongo 1Budongo 2







Following this we followed our guides into the forest for a spot of snare patrol, where we were taught how to find and identify snares often set by hunters. These ranged from small wires to huge mantraps, all an extreme hazard to creatures living in the forest, and also forest rangers.

Budongo 5


We later visited local villages where we were given a talk about the on-going battle bco-existence of humans and wildlife. We learnt about sustainable crop development and the setting of buffer zones in order to control the disruption of local communities by the chimpanzees and other animals living in the forest, which frequently visit to crop raid when food levels are low in the forest.

Only too soon, it was time to return to Kampala and make our way home to our respective countries, to take back all that we had learned and apply it not only to our studies but to our everyday lives and those around us.   I couldn’t wait to get started!

To say I have learned a great deal would be an understatement and it is with great pleasure that I write to inspire others to join in the next one.


Seonaid Biagioni, Masters of Public Health, University of Edinburgh

The world is changing – will your PhD matter?

At the dawn of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which ushers in 17 new goals in a global agenda to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all”, most countries will be realigning their national development goals to be in tune with these global goals to realize specific targets over the next 15 years. As a researcher, one thing will soon become obvious in the midst of this global effort to bring about change – that is future research grants will be awarded primarily around these 17 SDG goals. An important question – “how your research fits in this global agenda?” arises for you and other PhD researchers who will soon be applying for these grants to drive your respective fields forward with whatever piece of the bigger science puzzle you will be solving.

It will not be an easy task to find one’s footing in the fast changing terrain of global goals and priorities, and Dr Liz Grant of the Global Health Academy at Edinburgh University is not shy to point this out. But, thankfully, not without some pointers to a way forward. Dr Grant has had extensive research experience at the level of Global Health with her many years of research in palliative care around the globe. In her talk on the ‘Impact of PhD Researchers on Global Health’ which she delivered at the Global Health PhD Network event in October 2015, she had a lot to share.

In a talk that was neatly supplemented with real life examples of her own research, Dr Grant carefully led the thoughts of the PhD researchers in the room on a number of issues, which in her opinion will soon become important in their researching career in the light of the new SDGs.

Top of her list was the need for PhD researchers to start thinking of where to find other pieces of evidence for their research. “What matters in your PhD”, she said, “is pulling materials from connected disciplines and connected areas and making sure you draw them in – use the materials out there…network pieces of information together”. In truth, that is how science works in our day through extensive bridge building across multiple disciplines and you probably have come across this a number of times already in your field. The rewards of this approach is long term and may not be immediate which in the little time space of a PhD makes it appear impractical. But in Dr Grant’s view, your research questions are still questions because there have not been enough conversations around them for others before you to have answered them. This is a brilliant way to look at things because in a way it challenges you to start expanding the discourse around your research to span more than just the area of your interest, to generate interest in other relevant fields.

But what good might all that knowledge you obtain as a result be, if not for the good of mankind. “Knowledge for knowledge sake is wonderful”, she says, “but knowledge to make a difference is why you are here and why I am here and why the university is here”. The message here is pretty simple – don’t let your PhD be only just another addition to the vast collection of information sitting on shelves around the world and only collecting dust. But it should be one that works and makes a difference. And she thinks you can achieve this by starting to think about your PhD research in terms of who the constituents are (i.e. those directly affected by what you are doing), how you will engage the public on important issues like the burden of the problem you are dealing with or trying to help solve, and also the economics involved and equally importantly why your research needs to be prioritised in the face of other competing research.

Huge task, but is it beyond you? Of course not. A big step forward in making any of the impact that would make your PhD research matter is through advocacy. Because the impact is kind of often seen through advocacy, she said, in doing things like, writing blogs, getting local workshops, and communicating what you are studying to people who have the connections to make things work. “People built systems and people can take it down,” she says in reference to the perpetual ‘brick walls’ of resistance that bureaucracies will mount on your path. Keep talking to as many people as possible and never ever underestimate the power of networking because you can change things in partnerships.

In bringing all this home, Dr Grant urges PhD researchers to think once again about their PhD and ask themselves what are the core components of what they are doing. For instance in her own research in palliative care then this would be about the core components of a health care system. Ask yourself if your research is around the core components. If not, what can you do to create the conditions necessary for change? Are you getting the right materials at the right time to create these conditions? And will these conditions support a sustainable system? Also what is the national architecture like in your country that will mean your piece of research can fit in. Answers to these questions and a lot more which couldn’t fit in this piece are what in Dr Grant’s expert opinion would make your PhD make an impact.

“Never forget why we research, you and I – it’s our communities, it’s our families, it’s people.” Dr Liz Grant

Dr Grant’s talk was preceded by a lively PhD poster session that saw four PhD students from the University of Edinburgh present their research work from four different regions around the globe. The first poster by Sara Valencia looked at vaccine trials in Southern and Central America (Colombia, Brazil and Mexico). A second poster that looked at the prevalence of Non-communicable Diseases and the entitlement to and the use of health services in the Gaza strip was presented by Majdi Ashour. Mkululi Wami presented the findings of a research work he carried out in Sub Saharan Africa in Zimbabwe which used antibody responses based on parasite egg counts to estimate infection prevalence of schistosomiasis in young children. The last poster was presented by Ai Oishi on a research that sort to identify patients for palliative care approach in primary care settings in Japan.

The Global Health PhD Network started, in October 2014, as a student-driven interest group within the Global Health Society, University of Edinburgh, with the express aim of bringing together like-minded postgraduate researchers from the three colleges in the university for research sharing, knowledge and skills exchange, networking and shared global health career development. The Network has hosted a series of events during the past year to bring together PhD researchers in the university to listen to and to share thoughts on important issues surrounding global health. And their most recent event (the one I just described) was yet another opportunity for the Network to reiterate its vision of creating an environment that supports and promotes cross-disciplinary networking by inviting PhD poster presenters from all three colleges of the university.

Again, looking back at some of the key points in Liz’s talk on the importance of networking and advocacy for PhD researchers, you realise that the Global Health PhD Network has its priorities well placed, doing things right as it should be and is already on the right bus into the future.

Richard F Oppong, Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh

Keeping women’s and reproductive health on the agenda for sustainable development

Maternal and child health has been in the limelight for at least two decades and was prioritised by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We have seen great progress. Maternal mortality fell by 45% and 17,000 fewer children die each day, than in 1990. The focus has, however, been narrow but thankfully worldwide priorities are now changing to much broader more inclusive framework of sexual and reproductive health and the concept of women’s health. In September 2015, at the UN New York summit, the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 targets will be finalised.

The current draft goals include: achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all; ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages; and reduce inequality within and among countries. The focus for the next 15 years will be on sustainability. This month has seen a particular focus on women’s health and sustainable development with a Lancet issue devoted to it. See for a range of articles. Dr Ana Langer from the Women and Health Initiative at Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health writes “Sustainable development needs women’s social, economic, and environmental contributions, which will increase when women are healthy, valued, enabled, and empowered to reach their full potential in all aspects of their lives, including in their roles as providers of health care.”

Many issues remain which should now be tackled. Although gender equality has been achieved in primary school education, a large proportion of girls do not complete secondary school which means their choices for their future lives are severely limited. Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Around 20% of girls become wives before their 15th birthday, even though 18 is the minimum age allowed by law. Child marriage can have a damaging impact on young girls, and allowing them to continue their education is a way to avoid the future potential of sexual exploitation, dependency, domestic abuse and adolescent pregnancy. Adolescent bodies are not ready for childbirth and complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in girls aged 15-19 in low- and middle-income countries.

Despite admirable efforts, female genital mutilation continues in its various forms. In seven countries the national prevalence is almost universal (more than 85%) whilst in four countries there is high prevalence (60–85%) and medium prevalence (30–40%) is found in seven countries. National averages, however, often mask marked variation in prevalence in different regions of countries.

Source: MICS, DHS and other national surveys, 1997-2006. Map developed by UNICEF, 2007

Finally, a somewhat forgotten issue is that of maternal morbidity. For every woman who dies of pregnancy-related causes, an estimated 20 women experience acute or chronic morbidity. Maternal morbidity adversely affects families, communities and societies. There are multiple causes, with varying duration and severity ranging from transient to permanent. Diagnosis and treatment options, as well as rehabilitation approaches, exist but in low- and middle-income countries these are rarely freely available. Ladeisha Lombard, Rosemary Geddes and Liz Grant from Edinburgh University and colleagues recently published a review ( on rehabilitation experiences after obstetric fistula repair. There is a paucity of research in this area but it was found that for women resuming social roles as wives and mothers is a positive rehabilitation experience, whilst concerns and fears about longer-term emotional, economic and physical consequences cause negative experiences of rehabilitation. There is a real need for community health education and counselling services post-repair for women and their families, in order to reintegrate and restore the dignity of these women in society.

Dr Rosemary Geddes, Programme Coordinator Global Health Challenges, University of Edinburgh