Why USIU-Africa's Epidemiology and Biostatistics course is winning the hearts of many

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By Evans Ongwae

In September 2018, USIU-Africa launched an undergraduate programme on epidemiology and biostatistics, accredited by the Commission for University Education (CUE) in Kenya and the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) in the United States. The programme combines public health, epidemiology and biostatistics, producing a 3-in-1 ready-to-go health worker, a first in Kenya.

Naturally, the university received plenty of enquiries from interested students, but it was surprised that the course also attracted interest from unexpected quarters. Dr Eliab Some, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Programme Leader at USIU-Africa, says the experience was unusual, but pleasant and illuminating.

USIU-Africa developed the course to supply public health systems with a pool of qualified professionals to deal with the challenge of emerging epidemics.

As Dr Some explains, “every field of study has a contract with society to solve its problems and help people fulfill their aspirations, such as attaining the goals of Kenya Vision 2030 or Africa 2063 Agenda.”

The university had expected young people who had completed secondary school and maybe a few health experts to express interest in the course. It hadn’t anticipated the immediate wider appreciation it witnessed.

“I was surprised that some of our lecturers were saying: ‘I wish this course was there during my time as a student’. Others asked: ‘Can the university offer me this course only’?” recalls Dr Some.

More surprises were in store for the university because even some parents mulled over taking the same course they had brought their children to enrol into. Dr Some remembers one of them telling: “I think I should take this course.”

The don can now inform them that an online option for mature students is in the offing. Therefore, they should not lose hope. He adds that parents who are healthcare professionals have been urging their children to take the course, which they say is timely and relevant.

Dr Some points out that these parents understand what epidemiologists and biostatisticians bring to public health and the career opportunities available in this field.

Such has been the interest in this course that USIU-Africa boasts multi-cultural classes, with students from other African nations trooping to the university.

“We have students from South Africa, Botswana, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Sudan, and South Sudan, studying for the BSc. in Epidemiology and Biostatistics,” says Dr Some. He notes that having students from different countries enriches discussions in class.

The don, an epidemiology expert for many years, says he understands the great interest in the course. People’s interest, he observes, has been aroused in light of the recent epidemics that have ravaged different parts of the world, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. These are all public health emergencies of international concern.

Dr Some reports that since 1982, various epidemics, confined within limited geographical expanses and controlled from spreading globally, have been witnessed. Such diseases include West Nile Viral Infection, Swine Flu, Bird Flu, Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The epidemiology experts USIU-Africa is training, the don says, will allow doctors and nurses to focus on day-to-day management of patients, as they (the epidemiologists) focus in tackling epidemics.

Dr Some says epidemiology study of diseases such as SARS and MERS, combined with vaccine development experience gained over time, enabled scientists to quickly develop promising candidate vaccines for Covid-19.

Epidemiology, he explains, involves studying what is going on, who is affected, where, and what determinants the specific population was exposed to that led to the disease.

Biostatistics trains people to collect public health data and summarize, analyse and interpret them, before offering suggestions on how the situation can managed.

Dr Some points out that, according to World Health Organization (WHO), 1,450 epidemiologists were called to fight Ebola in West Africa. This is a confirmation of how important these experts are to the war against pandemics and in promoting public health.

The USIU-Africa don congratulates research scientists who confronted SARS in 2003 and began developing candidate vaccines for coronavirus disease. When MERS, another disease caused by the family of coronaviruses broke out in 2012, they didn’t have to start vaccines from scratch. They went back to the candidate vaccines. This shortened the period required to develop a vaccine for Covid-19. Thus, the world responded faster to the pandemic.

Dr Some looks forward to seeing his students graduate and join the public, private and NGO sectors where opportunities for their cadre exist. The first cohort is expected to graduate in September 2022.

The assistant professor says the university will invite potential employers to chat with the students before they graduate.

Find out more about Online Learning at the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

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