(Published - 8 April 2019)
When Professor Jakes Gerwel, University of the Western Cape (UWC) Vice-Chancellor and intellectual activist of the left, launched South Africa’s first School of Public Health outside a medical school, even he could not have foreseen how many lives it would change.
UWC’s School of Public Health is unique in many respects, both in South Africa and on the continent. Founded in the early 1990s to support the restructuring of the South African health system, the School aims to help transform a health system built for the benefit of a few so it can support the country as a whole.
In honour of World Public Health Day, have a look at what makes UWC’s School of Public Health such an innovative institution.
1. Education Around The Continent: Two-thirds of the School’s students come from beyond South Africa, so the SOPH has developed a strong distance-learning project. Some modules are now available entirely online and are accessible to the public. Since 1993, the School’s annual Summer and Winter Schools have provided learning opportunities for over 12 000 participants from South Africa and other African countries, making it the largest continuing education programme in public health in Africa.
2. World-Class Research: The SOPH is a World Health Organisation (WHO) collaborating centre for capacity development, teaching and research in health. SOPH also hosts two South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) chairs – recognising the SOPH’s leadership role in building up research and teaching capacity in Health Systems Governance, and in Health Systems, Complexity and Social Change (the holder of which also happens to be the Chair of Health Systems Global).
3. Name Dropping - the Founder Lectures: Both of the founding champions of the SOPH are honoured every year. The late Prof Jakes Gerwel, the UWC rector who advocated passionately for the development of South Africa’s first School of Public Health outside a medical school, lends his name to the Jakes Gerwel Award for Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Public Health – open to all former SOPH grads who have made an impact on public health. Prof David Sanders, the first Director of the SOPH and still an active researcher, is honoured through the annual David Sanders Lecture in Public Health and Social Justice, providing a respected public health figure a platform to discuss important matters.
4. Collaboration & Sharing: The SOPH advocates that education is a collaborative endeavour, and one that can always be improved - and that’s especially true for public health. That’s why they’ve been part of collaborations whose collective aim is growing the Open Education Resources movement, which aims to make education resources freely available on the web. That’s also why the SOPH recently launched a book, Building Public Health Capacity through a Short Courses Professional Development Programme: a Guide, which exposes health service providers, policy makers, health activists, and researchers to the latest public health thinking. The free guide opens the door to the workings of the aforementioned SOPH Summer and Winter School programme, from advertising and marketing to organising teaching venues and materials, and managing accreditation.
5. Empowering Breastfeeding Mothers: Breastfeeding saves lives: For most newborn babies, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is the key to health, followed by continued breastfeeding alongside nutritious complimentary meals for the first 1000 days of the child’s life. That’s why UWC is proud to announce that staff, students and visitors can make use of a brand new breastfeeding room at the School of Public Health. The brightly coloured room - which is adorned with African art - has a fridge to store milk, alongside comfy chairs and reading material on the benefits of breastfeeding.
Still not sure what UWC’s School of Public Health is all about? Why not visit the SOPH website and learn more about the staff, programmes, resources - and more? Or join the conversation on Twitter at @SOPHUWC or at the SOPH Facebook page?
Bonus Fun: SOPH Awesome Artworks: Ever wandered through the School of Public Health and admired those amazing African artworks? You can thank a former SOPH education specialist for getting those together – in addition to her sterling work transforming the SOPH’s distance learning into a top-quality e-learning environment. She also transformed the building’s very atmosphere during her 12-year stay (before leaving to pursue other opportunities). It’s not only relaxing for busy SOPH researchers, but it also helps entertain the thousands of visitors to one of UWC’s busiest conference venues.