“Communities will always need public health practitioners” – School of Public Health

Should medical doctors and nurses not suffice during pandemics? If there are no disease outbreaks, do public health practitioners go on extended holidays then? Seemingly not.

Studying Public Health at the University of Namibia equips you with the knowledge, understanding and skills required to carry out important public health work. But why is Public Health so important? Prof Honoré Kabwebwe Mitonga, Associate Dean: School of Public Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences, shares reasons why it’s important and so rewarding to be part of.

“To begin with, doctors and nurses cannot play all the roles when it comes to our health and wellbeing. They play crucial roles when it comes to patient clinical care. That is, taking care of those who are sick, and those requiring hospitalisation.

“On the other hand, a public health practitioner focuses on teaching individuals and communities about health behaviours, and how to prevent the spread of diseases. A professional in this field will try to encourage people to make healthy decisions in their daily lives to promote health and wellness.”

Therefore, public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities. On a daily basis, these practitioners are trained to develop diseases preventative measures or strategies, to do contact tracing, diseases surveillance, health promotion and emergency response. While the focus for medical doctors and nurses is on sick individuals, the focus for public health practitioner is on the population’s health”

Josefina Haimbondi is among the first cohort of graduates this year on the Bachelor of Science in Public Health (Honours) degree programme. “All my life I wanted to do something challenging and help improve people’s lives. At the beginning of the 2016 academic year, I received some information by one lecturer at Main Campus about the public health programme, showed me the prospectus and I liked the course description. I immediately wrote a letter to the faculty to change my course from Pre-Engineering to Public Health,” narrates Josefina.

“The value of public health to society is that it improves communities’ knowledge on their physical, social and mental health. This is a result of the mobilisation and dissemination of health information by young public health professionals. For me, graduating with this qualification is just the beginning,” she adds with emphasis.

Josefina, who hails from Oshigambo village in Oshikoto Region, is currently working for MoHSS under the Disease Surveillance bureau based at the Swakopmund District Hospital.

Besides, public health practitioners do not only work when there is an outbreak. “They perform different tasks such as working as health programme officers for programmes such as maternal and child health, TB, HIV/AIDS, HIS and malaria,” explains Prof Mitonga. Public health specialists can also work for regional and local authorities. Many pursue careers with UN agencies, NGOs, and in the private sectors as mine or factory occupational health and safety officer.

Meanwhile public health practitioners are not enough, and more are still needed in the SADC region, there lies an opportunity.  “Especially with the recurrence of outbreaks of infectious diseases, we need to build a strong public health system which is resilient to the shocks of outbreaks such as COVID-19,” appeals the Dean. A group of people living in the same place will always be there, as a consequence making the need of public health professionals indispensable.

Since 2016, based at Oshakati Campus, the School of Public Health annually takes in about 40 students on its Honours degree programme. Its first cohort of 31 students on the undergraduate programme are to graduate in April 2020.  In the last 4 four years, the School has graduated 5 PhD holders in Public Health, 29 with a Master’s degree in Public Health (MPH), and 17 with a Master of Science (MSc) in Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training (MPEL).