Building the Next Generation of Health Professional Leaders in East Africa

Student Conference 199

Student leaders, Sandra Kiapi (AGHA) and the Minister of Health of Uganda

Last week, over 80 health professional students from Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi and the United States gathered together in Kampala for the first East African Health and Human Rights Student Leadership Institute, sponsored by PHR and our local partner, the Action Group for Health, Human Rights, and HIV/AIDS (AGHA). This three-day event was the culmination of months of planning by student leaders, as well as PHR and AGHA staff. Read the blog posts from US students on their experiences in Uganda.

Eleven different training schools—with delegates from medical schools, nursing schools and paramedical programs—were represented at this workshop, a first of its kind in the region. The delegates came together to build their knowledge of human rights, to enhance their skills in advocacy and to share their ideas for building student organizations focused on protecting human rights.

The three days were packed with distinguished speakers (including keynotes by the Minister of Health of Uganda and Honorable Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye) and focused discussions aimed at helping the students understanding how to use human rights principles as they take on their role as future health professional leaders in the region.

As I reflect on the week, there were many highlights—watching the students present on the main health and human rights challenges in their countries; hearing the experiences of current advocates like Sandra Kiapi of AGHA, Miano Munene of HERAF and Dr. Davis Kasheka of FACT; and participating in interactive skills building workshops, which engaged the students and built their knowledge in crucial areas like leadership development, working with the media, power-mapping for their campaign and online organizing and communications.

On the last day, a group of the students worked together to write a resolution from the Leadership Institute which they will all share with their local media, their institutions and their governments. This resolution, which is included at the end of this post, was read aloud to the closing Guest of Honor, AGHA Board of Directors Chair Dr. Margaret Muganwa, who praised the delegates for their impressive work over the course of the three days.

For me, the Student Leadership Institute was much more than just a three-day workshop. It was a symbol of how far we progressed in the past five years through PHR and AGHA's work in Uganda.

When Students for Equity in Healthcare (SEHC)—the medical student organization founded by AGHA and a group of medical students who wanted to get involved in advocacy for human rights—was founded just four years ago, we could only imagine a health professional student human rights movement that spanned four countries across the region. Yet last week, as delegates from each University shared the health and human rights activities taking place on their campuses, it was clear that the concepts of advocacy and human rights have taken hold among students at these universities. PHR, AGHA, HERAF, and FACT Rwanda have all contributed their knowledge and expertise, but the students have really taken the information and the skills provided to them and made this movement their own.

Blending advocacy regarding their own rights and the rights of students with advocacy on behalf of the communities they serve, SEHC and the other student organizations represented in Kampala last week are building the next generation of human rights advocacy in East Africa.

All of the delegates left with their work cut out for them, and, as Dr. Muganwa reminded them, their path forward will not always be easy. On the last day, all the delegates started to draft their work plans to bring back to their student organizations on their respective campuses. Although this group of delegates may never meet all together again, the human rights advocacy networks that they are building on their campuses are now linked together through the delegates and through the local human rights organizations that support their work. A true regional student movement was born last week, and all of us from PHR were proud to be a part of it.

East Africa Health and Human Rights Leadership Institute Resolution

Sponsored by: Physicians for Human Rights (PHR-USA), Action Group for Health, Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (AGHA-Uganda), Health Rights Advocacy Forum (HERAF-Kenya), Students for Equity in Health Care (SEHC-Uganda), and Forum of Activists Against Torture (FACT-Rwanda, Burundi)


We, health professional students from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, convened for the East Africa Health and Human Rights Leadership Institute in Kampala, Uganda on April 2-4, 2009;Being aware of the need to bring together a group of future health professionals to raise awareness of our role in promoting health and human rights on our campuses and in the wider community;Building the foundation for a network of East African health professional students in health and human rights advocacy;Having acquired health and human rights advocacy skills to address critical health rights issues;Identifying health and human rights concerns that affect the future of our countries, important issues that affect health professional students, health care professionals, and fellow citizens;Believing it is essential that health professionals and students ensure that governments deliver on internationally agreed upon commitments to protect health and human rights of all people;Committing ourselves to identifying pressing health professional and student rights and looking forward to working together to protecting these rights.

Resolve to call upon our governments and their partners to work together to ensure that:

  1. health professionals and health professional students have freely available vaccinations in order to protect themselves and their patients, including hepatitis B vaccinations, which are cost prohibitive to many health professional students in the East Africa region;
  2. essential medicines for diseases including tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS are continuously funded and in-stock so that patients can receive timely, accessible, and consistent treatment;
  3. health care professional students have access to up-to-date medical guidelines and training as well as reliable access to internet at their institutions for educational purposes;
  4. governments upgrade and increase the number of health care facilities, especially in rural and semi-rural areas of our countries;
  5. health care professionals have adequate supplies and organized events for frequent, widely available continuing medical education and current standards of good clinical practice;
  6. robust short-term and long-term solutions are created and implemented to increase retention of health professionals in our countries, including improved investment in health professional compensation, adequate supplies necessary to good clinical practice, safety protections in the workplace, and continuing education;
  7. improved funding and coordination within the health sector, including mechanisms to decrease doctor/nurse to patient ratios and to identify and respond to disease epidemics and the increasing burdens of chronic diseases, such as diabetes mellitus;
  8. human rights are included in the curricula for health professional students in all cadres.

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