MUST hosts a successful HAY! Symposium on Adolescent Health

On 17th April 2024, Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) in partnership with the University of Calgary (U of C) in Canada through Healthy Child Uganda hosted the Healthy Adolescents and Young People (HAY!) Symposium under the theme “Everyoneness a Key Implementation Pillar: Sharing Lessons Learned and Scaling up Best Practices.” The highly interactive event hosted at the Las Vegas Hotel in Mbarara brought together a diverse group of stakeholders including delegates from the University of Calgary, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and Sports, Local Government Representatives, Parliamentary Youth Forum, Schools, Village Health Teams, Implementing Partners and researchers. Regional partners were Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi.

Following a moving poem titled “Threads of Hope” by a youthful Ms. Birungi Hesley about the aspirations of Adolescents and Young People (AYs), Prof. Celestino Obua the Vice Chancellor of MUST officially opened the symposium. He commended Prof. Jerome Kabakyenga the co-director of HCU for organizing the symposium and building on the University’s niche of community development. Prof. Obua emphasized the University’s commitment to collaborative community development and the importance of innovation. He expressed gratitude to international partners and district leaders who facilitated HAY! Initiative’s community engagement.

Left to Right: Prof. Celestino Obua – Vice Chancellor MUST, Prof. Francois Bernier – Director, Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and Dr. Dianne Mosher – Indigenous Local and Global Health Officer and Associate Dean, Cumming School of Medicine University of Calgary

During the symposium, insightful presentations and panel discussions increased the awareness about HAY! informing stakeholders of the needs, approach to programming, and scaling up support for the AYs.

Chaired by Assoc. Prof. Joseph Ngonzi, the Dean Faculty of Medicine at MUST, keynote presentations were given by Dr. Ellie Vyver, Head of Adolescent Medicine at the U of C, and Dr. Rachel Beyagira, the Acting Assistant Commissioner for Health Services and Adolescent Health at the Ugandan Ministry of Health. Dr. Ellie Vyver discussed emerging global concepts in adolescent health, highlighting new evidence including brain development and how it impacts stages of adolescent development.

Presenting the state of adolescent health and wellness in Uganda, Dr. Racheal Beyagira shared statistics on mental health illness, gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, and access and utilization of family planning among Ugandan adolescents, emphasizing that nearly half of Uganda’s population is below 15 years. She expounded on the way the Ministry of Health works closely with the districts and stressed the need to strengthen collaborations with other Ministries like the Ministry of Education and Sports; and the Ministry of Labour, Gender, and Social Development to holistically tackle the challenges of AYs.

Dr. Racheal Beyagira giving the Keynote presentation

A thought-provoking plenary session on “Sharing the HAY Experience” followed, chaired by Dr. Kanyesigye Hamson, the newly appointed Deputy Chief Research Officer of the Department of Maternal Newborn and Child Health (DMNCH) under the Mbarara University Research Institute (MURI). Presenters included Prof. Jerome Kabakyenga, who provided an overview of the initiative funded by Global Affairs Canada and implemented from 2020 to 2024. Prof. Kabakyenga highlighted the initiative’s focus on collaboration with districts, political leaders, health facilities, communities, and schools, tailoring interventions to meet the specific needs of adolescents and young people aged between 10-24 years. Ms. Immaculate Ninsiima, Monitoring, and Evaluation Lead for HAY! presented on health facility survey data collected in Bushenyi and Rubirizi districts.

Presenters during a pannel discussion –  Left to Right: Prof. Jerome Kabakyenga, Ms. Immaculate Ninsiima, Ms. Teddy Kyomuhangi, Mr. Shabohurira Ambrose, Dr. Tibenda K. Bulemu, Dr. Dianne Mosher and Dr. Wendo Olema

 

Ms. Teddy Kyomuhangi, Senior Manager for HAY! discussed the initiative’s key success factors, including the use of implementation science with published research, embeddedness within communities, and beneficiary-driven action. Representing the District Health Officer for Bushenyi District, Mr. Shabohurira Ambrose and Dr. Tibenda K. Bulemu, District Health Officer for Rubirizi District, shared their perspectives on the positive changes in attitudes and understanding of adolescent health observed in their districts due to the HAY! initiative.

An engaging question-and-answer session with the plenary presenters was then conducted. The session was chaired by Dr. Dianne Mosher, the Indigenous Local and Global Health Officer and Associate Dean, Cumming School of Medicine U of C; and Dr. Wendo M. Olema, the Dean, Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies at MUST. The questions ranged from details about the implementation processes, challenges faced, and how scale-up of this much-needed programme for AYs to other districts can be attained.

The afternoon continued with a panel discussion on “HAY! Innovations: Putting it into Action,” chaired by Dr. Jonans Tusiimire, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at MUST, and Dr. Jenn Brenner, Technical Director of HAY! at the U of C and Co-Director of Healthy Child Uganda. Panelists included Mr. Dansom Tayebwa, Headmaster of Mwengura Secondary School in Bushenyi; Ms. Nancy Nyamweya, In-Charge of Kyeizooba Health Centre III in Bushenyi; and Ms. Patience Ainomugisha, Senior Health Educator in Rubirizi. Sharing their lived experiences, it was evident that the HAY! initiative enriched the lives of AYs;  those reached now access the health facilities and services at school with more confidence adopted healthy behaviors, and actively participate at their schools, communities, and homes. Overall, AYs are more confident about making positive life choices that are building blocks for a better future.

 

Panel discussion: Left to Right: Ms Patience Ainomugisha, Ms. Nancy Nyamweya, Mr. Danson Tayebwa, Assoc. Prof. Jenn Brenner and Dr. Jonans Tusimire

To empower adolescents and young people to share their personal experiences and create impactful narratives that can drive discussion and action, HAY! also used an innovative platform called Digital storytelling (DST). Mr. Robins Mutatina, the DST Facilitator for HAY! presented on HAY!’s use of DST after showing a video of an AY telling her story of despair and hope. Mr. Mutatina then encouraged participants to interest themselves in this positive way of dissemination and informed them that DMNCH conducts DST trainings.

Dr. Jesca Nsungwa, former Commissioner for Reproductive and Infant Health at the Ugandan Ministry of Health chaired a panel discussion on, “Informing Scale Up and Policy.” The panelists were; Dr. Rachel Beyagira, Dr. Ellie Vyver, Mr. Muhammad Kasule, Technical Advisor for Health at the Ugandan Ministry of Education, Mr. Osborn Turyasingura, Parliamentary Youth Forum Coordinator, and Mr. Michael Muyonga, Program Manager for Adolescent Health at African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF). The discussions through more light on ways how the AY programming can be improved and scaled up to raise a better generation.

Presenters during a panel discussion- Left to Right: Dr. Muhamed Kasule, Mr. Osborn Turyasingura, Mr. Micheal Muyonga, Dr. Ellie Vyver, Dr. Racheal Muyonga and Dr. Jesca Nsungwa

The wrap-up session chaired by Ms. Sheila Niinye Twinamatsiko, the International Relations Officer of MUST and the Master of Ceremonies of the day concluded the informative symposium. The speakers were: Dr. Richard Kabanda the Acting Commissioner, Health Promotion and Education Communication Division, Ministry of Health (MOH); Prof. Francois Bernier, Director, of Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, University of Calgary; Dr. Jonans Tusiimire representing Prof. Nixon Kamukama the Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs at MUST and Assoc. Prof. Charles Tushabomwe-Kazooba, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Finance and Administration and Finance at MUST.

It was of utmost pleasure when Dr. Richard Kabanda remarked that MOH is ready to utilise the innovative packages developed under HAY! for AY programming nationally. He thanked the implementing team for the successful initiative and for their efforts to work closely with MOH and other national and international partners throughout the development process.

Noting the great opportunity created through the implementation of the HAY initiative, Dr. Francois Bernier emphasized the need to think about AYs in our different work. He re-echoed the poem titled Threads of hope by one of the AY’s at the start of the symposium, revealing how their desire to be understood, appreciated, and guided needs to be recognized and supported.  He appreciated the MUST- U of C partnership and committed to strengthening it.

“Beyond the secondary schools and communities engaged, it is vital to note that most University students are also AYs” Dr. Jonans Tusimire noted. He encouraged HCU to think about ways of providing this relevant literature to MUST staff and equip them with skills to handle the holistic challenges their students face.

Giving closing remarks, Assoc. Prof. Charles Tushabomwe-Kazooba noted that giving one’s best as a team player contributes to the triumph of the whole team. He thanked all the different partners for making HAY! a success, which not only re-enforces MUST’s niche in community engagement but also sets a platform to enable the University to gain more partners for further collaboration to address societal challenges. He appreciated the long-standing and fruitful partnership between MUST and U of C.

The symposium ended with participants energetic to support and advocate for AYs in their different spheres of influence. More information about the HAY! interventions, outcomes, data, and research results can be accessed via this link.

 

Succeed we must!

 

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