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Africa University graduates aid community health

By Andra Stevens*
June 19, 2007 | MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)

Two pioneer graduates in the master’s program of Health Sciences at Africa University are using research and professional contributions to promote public health in the communities they serve.

Dr. Kasombo Tshiani, a physician, and Margaret Tagwira, a laboratory technician, received Master of Public Health degrees from Africa University June 9 during the institution’s 13th graduation ceremony. Both are engaged in studies to improve public health and public safety in Zimbabwe.

A physician from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tshiani is based at the hospital of the Nyadire Mission of The United Methodist Church. For his thesis, he investigated factors contributing to an increase in traffic accidents and related injuries and deaths in Zimbabwe.

Tagwira’s research focused on health laboratories in six hospitals in the Mutasa District in the eastern province of Manicaland in Zimbabwe. The study’s objective was to assess laboratory capacity and related factors in controlling tuberculosis, malaria and HIV infection.

Dr. Barbael Krumme, a community health specialist in Africa University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, supervised their research. "It is very important for a doctor who is totally focused on the individual in terms of care to have this broader view of what is good for the population and to understand how to balance public health interests and individual interests," she said.

Life-saving research

Dr. Kasombo Tshiani

Tshiani's study involved interviewing drivers and reviewing accident records in police departments and hospitals. Using data primarily from Mutare, home of Africa University, he found that fatality rates can be reduced if speed controls are consistently enforced. The study also found that time of day, careless driving, environmental factors and vehicle defects are contributing to the increase in road accidents and traffic injuries and deaths.

His findings may assist in finding new strategies to improve road safety. Tshiani has made specific recommendations to road safety organizations, police departments, businesses that employ large numbers of drivers and other stakeholders.

Tagwira’s health laboratory study findings also touched the conditions of service of laboratory personnel, their training in management and their ability to maintain their equipment, all of which she found to be in need of improvement.

The results revealed inadequacies in infrastructure, human resources and equipment. It concluded that health systems need strengthening and that quality assurance programs need to be developed and implemented.

"We have to be able to do effective disease surveillance so that we know if our health systems are performing adequately or if they are lacking in any way," said Tagwira. "If we find that systems are lacking, then we must look at how they can be helped. If the systems are failing to control tuberculosis and malaria, how can we even think about being effective against the new threats like bird flu?"

Translating academics to life

Both Africa University graduates are working to impact their communities.

As the only doctor at the Nyadire Mission, Tshiani is responsible for overall administration and clinical services at the 200-bed rural hospital, which serves about 1,000 patients a month, including malaria and surgical cases, and provides health services to significant numbers of people living with HIV/AIDS. In addition, the hospital reaches out to surrounding communities by supporting the work of local clinics. It provides immunizations, collects and passes on statistics to national health officials, tracks trends and implements prevention measures.

Margaret Tagwira

"This hospital is good for putting what I’ve learned (in the master’s program) into practice. It is also a good place for gaining experience and making a difference," he said.

Tagwira is working in the university’s Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources and is as busy off campus and in the community as she is in the school's agriculture laboratories.

For more than a decade, she has shared her knowledge of mushroom production with others in the community.

She created a model small-scale operation that consists of rabbit hutches feeding into a vegetable garden and a fish pond and is demonstrating how, with very modest resources and practical training, vulnerable and marginalized citizens such as orphans can become successful agribusiness operators.

Orphaned children and young people comprise more than 10 percent of Zimbabwe’s population, and many are girls who often must provide for younger siblings. Tagwira is passionate about resourcing and preparing them to support themselves and to make meaningful contributions in their communities.

"I’m of the view that public health practice is not restricted to offices, hospitals and classrooms," she said.

*Stevens is director of information and public affairs at Africa University.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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