07 April 2021

Today is World Health Day 2021 and the theme this year is Building a Fairer, Healthier World. Edmund Koboah, the Trust's Global Health Partnerships Manager, describes the collaborative work going on globally with Trust partner organisations. 

How long have you been leading the Global Health Partnership work for the Trust, and what are the ongoing projects we are involved in?

I’ve been the Trust’s Global Health Partnerships Manager since July 2016. I work closely with the Director of Global Health Dr Nick Bass, and fantastic volunteers who are really the key to the success of the partnership. Uganda is our flagship programme known as the ‘Butabika Link’, we also have a partnership with Bangladesh and at this moment in time we are applying for a number of external grants with various countries with a focus on health systems strengthening. Historically, many of our projects in Uganda have involved training and capacity building including the development of Psychiatric Clinical Officers (PCOs), CAMHS, PSWs, epilepsy (which is classed as a MH disorder in Uganda), common and serious MH disorders, and community engagement. We are still very much involved with these as they are integral to the local health systems across Uganda. We are also in a consortium which was recently awarded a £1.5m grant to develop a PSW training project in the refugee settlements in the West Nile region of Uganda.

This year's Global Health Awareness day, sponsored by the WHO, the emphasis is on inequalities in health care. From your vantage point, what effect has the coronavirus global emergency had on the fight to reduce these global health inequalities? 

We know the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities between people, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, socioeconomic and other factors that affect an individual’s health and well-being – the so-called social determinants of health.

The pandemic has slowed this process right down. One way of reducing in particular health inequities is for countries to provide Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to their populations. The disparity between rich and poor is huge. Take the UK for example, whose populations have been able to stay at home under lockdown restrictions and most given government support if unemployed, with access to healthcare provided free at the point of use. Whereas most in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) do not have that luxury, many live in poverty and if people do not go out and work, this will have a detrimental effect on their livelihoods. Health and poverty are inextricably linked. Health care is generally paid for out of pocket which can lead many families into extreme poverty, which reminds me of an unfortunate quote ‘you’re ill because you’re poor, and you’re poor because you’re ill’.

With special reference to Butabika, the only national referral mental health hospital in Uganda, ELFT's partnership working is well known, where an emphasis on mutual learning and collaboration is key. How do you see this develop in the future?

We pride ourselves on mutual learning, this has been a central tenet right from the start of the partnership 17 years ago and is included as one of our core values. Co-production between experts by experience and experts by profession to improve services is also something we advocate having set up the first Recovery College in Africa at Butabika Hospital.

Certainly in the immediate future, the use of technology will play a key role in our partnership development. The pandemic has led many health partnerships to adapt their activities and embrace more remote ways of working and we have been no different. We plan to include more virtual training sessions in future projects incorporating more of a blended approach.

What can people here do to support Butabika? 

We welcome all types of clinical and non-clinical staff who wish to get involved in our work. Pandemic restrictions have halted international travel, so in-country volunteering is limited at this moment. Nevertheless, there are many activities that can be done remotely - Fund-raising for the hospital; contributing to existing projects; setting up your own small project; providing teaching and training (in-person or remote); hosting visitors; and individual donations (one-off or regular direct debit).

Anybody wishing to make an individual donation can visit https://www.bartscharity.org.uk/donate/ and enter SPF2040 which is the Butabika fund at Barts Charity.

For more information on our work and anybody interested can contact me on e.koboah@nhs.net