In the story below Ms Catherine Mbabazi Ngorok reflects on her experiences during the Fellowship Programme on Health Systems Management that was implemented under partnership between the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM), Antwerp in Belgium, and Makerere University School of Public Health (MaKSPH). Ms Mababazi is a Senior National Program Officer at the National Population Council (NPC) in Kampala, Uganda.
What motivated you to join the Fellowship Programme on Health Systems Management?
When I saw the advert for the Fellowship, I felt it was a great opportunity for me to improve on my competencies in systems analysis and developing solutions to system-related challenges. I was especially interested in packaging the knowledge on enhancing integration of population issues into development plans. Also, the fact that the Fellowship focused on health systems strengthening, I wanted to contribute towards leveraging the coordination role of the National Population Council (NPC) of Uganda, given my role as a Senior National Programme Officer at the Policy and Planning Unit. The NPC – formerly Population Secretariat – is a government agency that was established by the Act of Parliament in 2014 to coordinate the implementation of the National Population Policy and Population Programme, and to advocate for the integration of population factors in development planning in accordance with the agreed framework under the National Development Plan.
NPC specifically guides the mainstreaming and integration of population issues in the development planning processes at national and sub-national levels. It advocates for the increased appreciation of the inter-linkages between population and development with government and non-state actors.
Based on this, the Fellowship Programme was an opportunity for me to: (1) reflect on the role of my institution towards advocacy in delivering health outcomes; and (2) to leverage on Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) experts on how I could contribute to the on-going international and national discussions on harnessing the demographic dividend and accelerating the demographic transition through rapid fertility and mortality decline.
How have you realized your objectives?
In a bid to seek these answers, I worked with population and health experts at MakSPH and government institutions to provide guidance to targeted government sectors in developing a common package/understanding of what constitutes the demographic dividend and what is required to mainstream its drivers in national planning and monitoring frameworks. I initiated conversations and engagements with key government institutions (NPC, my own institution, and the National Planning Authority), academia (MakSPH and the Centre for Population and Applied Statistics also at Makerere University), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) as stewards of technical processes in this area.
Following the engagement process, a theory of change was developed to guide mainstreaming of the demographic dividend. Currently, based on this theory of change, a demographic dividend multi-sectoral results framework is being designed that will guide integrated multi-sectoral planning in the context of programme based budgeting, and a compliance framework of the National Development Plan.
What is that one thing you have learned?
The lessons I learned go far beyond classroom teaching. I have learnt the power of influencing policy by working through other people. During this Fellowship I received regular access to some of the most influential and great personalities and technical leadership from mentors and peers who supported me both technically and financially. The mentorship and coaching from these experts and a catalytic supplementary funding from the SPEED programme and the UNFPA were very fundamental in facilitating an enabling environment for increased appreciation and understanding of the demographic dividend concept. The ability to network with countless amounts of leaders and individuals allowed me to build relationships that will continue throughout my career. I have learnt the importance of expert opinion in guiding the Fellowship, especially in structuring the problem.
What is that something good that made you excited?
It is rare for academic material to translate into policy, programming and planning. Currently, this study has been translated directly into budgeting and funding for population programmes. The results of this study being referenced at international level in different international meetings is a pleasant surprise. The unwavering support from academic and government professionals has really excited me and I look forward to supporting all efforts and processes up to last mile of integration of the demographic dividend issues.
What else would you like to share about this Fellowship?
The Fellowship Programme has been my turning point; it has inspired me to follow a new path of action/implementation research, ignited my interest to pursue a PhD in policy analysis and multi-sectoral collaboration to advance population issues. At the initial time of enrolment, my focus was to improve routine recording data at health facilities level in our target districts. The motivation was to improve reporting in our areas of programme interventions. However, after listening to the specificities of systems thinking and on the social determinants of health, I changed focus to integrating population issues into development plans and budgets. In particular, with a specific reference to the increasing number of young population that is associated with high fertility and limited family planning. The focus was later narrowed to mainstreaming the demographic dividend drivers in national development plans, including sectors and local governments. In summary, the Fellowship Programme boosted my career path!