A Project Against All Odds

Report on the Joint Efforts to Produce a sustainable Masters Degree in Clinical Laboratory Sciences in the Universities of Gondar and Jimma in Ethiopia.

This ambitious project emerged from the invitation of Professor Liz Trimble to visit the laboratories in Gondar and Jimma to evaluate their potential to  set up tests for the chronic diseases project led by Professor Eldryd Parry of the Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET).

When I saw for myself the lack of facilities available it became clear that in order for any improvements to be made,  there was need for a major renewal of the service, starting  from the basic building blocks.  It was decided that the best way forward was to  provide the opportunity for continuing professional development (CPD).  A network of contacts in Ethiopia was formed and a consensus reached that the best way to move the discipline forward was to by means of a professional Masters Degree, in Clinical Laboratory Sciences.

Upon my return to the UK I learned of the work with the Leicester-Gondar Link.  This led to several exchanges with Professor Mike Silverman who was planning with Dr Assefa (the Dean in Gondar at the time) to initiate a Masters in Advanced Clinical Practice in various other disciplines. Discussions took place about the feasibility of putting together a UK led initiative to produce and support  an MSc course in Clinical  Laboratory Sciences was debated.

Using our respective networks, we were able to form a small team and set up a series of meetings aimed at fleshing out the mechanisms and responsibilities involved in a complex task such as this.

Academic interest was not enough.  The ability to push the project forward depended on financing from sources that were interested in advancing the knowledge base of a developing country.

Many drug companies were approached, but sadly none provided  funding. Perseverance paid off finally with an application made to the Sir Halley Stewart Foundation Trust  who embraced the concept wholeheartedly.

Another meeting in Gondar put the curriculum in sharper focus and with the input from the Ethiopian Ministry of Education.  A course structure was agreed upon, whilst back in the UK the team of dedicated teachers and trainers were finally put together.

The UK Institute of Biomedical Sciences (IBMS) curriculum was eventually used as a template for the nascent degree program and the individual modules formed around it.

Travel was going to be a problem, with the coordination of the busy UK volunteers involved, since it needed time allocation for teaching and travel arrangements to be made.  This large and essential part of the project was handled superbly by the Leicester-Gondar Link, in the UK by Nichole Bruce and Ethiopia by Solomon Assefa. The 2 year program required arrangements to be made for transport and accommodation of 17 individuals in the specialty program and 8 in the core modules.  Because of their UK duties and responsibilities, large amounts of flexibility were called for among the participants and we got through with determination and perseverance. The real stumbling block for the project, proved to be the  underlying need for better equipped laboratories both in Jimma and Gondar Universities and their respective  Hospitals.

Of the 21 students initially enrolled, 2 dropped out for personal reasons, and 18 managed to successfully complete the course.


First graduates of the MSc in Advanced Laboratory Science at Gondar University

Overall the project took less than 4 years from conception to completion . Over the 2 year period of the course the students came to know the teachers and gained the confidence to continue the course under their own management.

The teaching and mentoring staff indeed went the full mile.   Most found it a rewarding experience, where strong bonds were formed internally and externally with the students and local University officials. This was a 2-way learning process and ended with a sense of achievement on all sides.

Written by Dr Zahra Khatami


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