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Opinion - Higher education rapidly responding in a troubled world

2021-10-08  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Higher education rapidly responding in a troubled world
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The world is troubled, and we all now know that ‘None of us is safe until all of us are safe’. 

It is a time to pull together to transform our people and planet. We must take action now; it is everyone’s responsibility.  Two great things must happen, we must ‘beat Covid-19’ and we must secure our environment.  

The major global meeting, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) is happening in November 2021, more of that later, and more of higher education Namibia’s support for environmental sustainability in future articles.  

As to the first, ‘beating Covid-19’, Namibia has a superb example of a transformative project, we suggest it is a world leader in change management at national level. We have been following with keen interest the marvellous activities of the University of Namibia’s Unam Cares, and we are sure that the project has surpassed the threshold of community service. 

In Unam Cares (#UnamCares), Namibia has a truly excellent example of university supported community change management. The biggest programme that #UnamCares has undertaken thus far, is one in support of the country’s response to Covid-19 and it is called Covid Namibia Vaccination (#CovidNamVacc).

The programme, heavily funded by numerous partners, is squarely in support of the Ministry of Health and Social Services Covid-19 Vaccination Campaign and the work is synergistic.  We are amplified by working together.  The campaign of health promotion, coupled with the rollout of vaccination clinics is truly nationwide and definitely helping secure the future health and wealth of the nation.  Namibia is now starting to come off ‘red travel lists’ internationally.  

Together we are more, and the combined efforts of the ministries of health, ICT and of international relations, and our higher education institutions have enabled Namibia to push forward out of a very bleak place in Namibia’s recent past.  It has been a very painful experience; everyone has been affected directly and indirectly.

#CovidNamVacc has reached the whole country with health promotion and additional vaccination clinics in support of the Ministry of Health and Social Services including from Keetmanshoop to Gobabis from Khomas to the coast, Katima Mulilo and now to Omusati.

It is of huge interest that this project is reaching out to Omusati as #UnamCares originally ran its Hepatitis E campaign in Omusati.

Therefore, Unam Cares has effective health partners in Omusati, and with this relationship and mutual understanding, the project is bound to be successful in the region, in the form of health promotion and a vaccination clinic. 

One of the challenges the region has is that it is facing a critical situation with many Angolan refugees crossing the border who are Covid-19 positive, and inevitably, the hospital is struggling with the workload.  

This escalating situation is of course almost inevitable, and it takes courage, energy and professionalism to respond. We are sure that the Omusati health team, with the help from Unam Cares and other stakeholders will be on top of the situation soon.

The Unam Cares team is driving the 800km from Windhoek to Opuwo to make sure that everyone gets a chance at vaccination and receives health promotion advice.

We have also noticed that the team also travels to southern Namibia where the project operates through Unam Southern Campus with the support of Director, Prof Lischen Haoses–Gorases. Let us quote here from an opening event address by //Kharas region governor Aletha Frederick on Oxygen Therapy Case Management Training for Nurses working in High Care Units by Unam Cares and Oxygen Namibia Grant (a rapid spin-off project from #CovidNamVacc): “You were not put off by the long distance to the //Kharas region. I believe that it was your sincere concern as Unam family for the people of //Kharas region, which motivated you to come here. “  

During her address, the governor thanked all the ministry nurses, Unam nurse lecturers Ms Lilian Masule and Justa de Klerk, Unam Care Director Dr Rachel Freeman (a social work academic) and international partners (Cardiff University Phoenix Project and the Welsh government).  In doing so, the governor encapsulated support and involvement from the local, escalating through to the global. Surely a solid synergy for sustainable change and societal improvement.

Responsiveness of this type is what critical situations are all about: you might expect it from the Red Cross or Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), as quite frankly, rapid response is their raison d’être, but impressively, you are also seeing it from Unam Cares and Unam. 

Dr Freeman, the remarkable, energetic and visionary Director of Unam Cares had this to say in an interview recently: “Unam Cares was set up on World Hepatitis Day in July 2019 to support and improve the lives of the most vulnerable in Namibian society.  

We grew steadily in our ambition, our organisation and in our ability to draw down funding but then came Covid-19.  At that point, we did not stint to step forward and use our skills and networks to fight this fight.  We are only a little over two years old, but we are effective beyond our years because we have the whole of University of Namibia processes at our fingertips.  Unam Cares likes a challenge and we are here to help.”

We draw a parallel from the University of Campinas (Unicamp), Campinas, Brazil, by quoting Prof Marcelo Knobel: “medical and nursing students organised a hotline to deal with doubts and concerns; a group of our older students in our lifelong learning initiative started an ‘active listening’ group to talk to people who are isolated and lonely; the university started a programme to seek donations to organise the distribution of basic food and hygiene products for people in need. Several blogs and podcasts were launched to explain different aspects of the pandemic.” (University World News, 20 May 2020).

Thus, there is no doubt that the higher education sector plays a pivotal role in the fight against the pandemic. Unam Cares is an exemplar project leading the way in global change-management practice, and all done at lightning-fast speed, but without ever sacrificing quality.

2021-10-08  Staff Reporter

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