Q&A: Ugandan health leader William Bazeyo

By October 13, 2014

The Community Partners Celebration on Oct. 2 featured speaker William Bazeyo from Makerere University School of Public Health in Uganda. Bazeyo is an international public health leader known for his talent in forging partnerships to improve the health of millions of Africans.

Bazeyo speaking at a podium

William Bazeyo presents his keynote speech at the Community Partners Celebration. Credit: Erin Kerr

SPH spoke with Bazeyo to learn about his extraordinarily effective approach to helping the communities.

Why did you decide to get into public health?

I was working as a doctor with the coffee industry in Uganda where everyday I was seeing people with the same preventable diseases and injuries. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to help them because the industry was set up for profit. They didn’t want to hear about any preventative programs because they were expensive.

So I decided to get a masters of medicine in occupational health. After that, I worked only one more year in the industry and left to join the University to teach because I realized I could make an impact in the community helping to prevent the diseases.

What are you focusing on as a public health leader in Uganda?

One of my roles is to find partners in the different areas of preventive medicine or public health, which is our biggest need in my country and region.

Our university gets little money for research. So we must work with partners in other universities, and the donor community to find resources to do research, to implement our own solutions and to facilitate teaching.

As an example, we identified the University of Minnesota and its One Health program because of its expertise. Minnesota is more or less a duplicate of Uganda because of the agricultural community and its health needs.

Another role is I am the chief of party and director of the ResilientAfrica Network (RAN). The goal of RAN is to partner African universities with stressed communities to identify their problems, and then design and implement acceptable, sustainable innovations to answer their needs.

You’ve had great success establishing potent tobacco control policies in Uganda—how did you do it?

Our success is from raising political will and supporting the passing of bills in countries where the tobacco industry is very strong, like Uganda and others. In fact, in Uganda, the tobacco industry for the first time paid so much in taxes that it has declared that it will close shop and move to another country.

We’ve also been successful because we worked with farmers and their communities to show them how the tobacco industry causes them extreme poverty. As a result, we’ve convinced many communities to stop growing tobacco and to grow alternative crops, like soybeans and maize, because they do not deplete the land like tobacco does and it gives them high yields and more financial resources.

What’s your approach to helping communities when dealing with major threats like Ebola?

Uganda was able to halt Ebola and I strongly assert many lessons can be learnt from our success.

To stop it, you must understand the people’s culture. That’s why you need an interdisciplinary team—including anthropologists, social workers, health care workers, policy makers—to help you penetrate the community.

When we approach them, it’s not to say that they’re doing it wrong; instead we say we’ve come to be part of them to understand what they’re going through.

Then, community members should also be co-opted to join the team.

I keep saying and I’ll say it again: HIV/AIDS has been with us since the 1980s. We’ve never found an appropriate drug that can treat people nor a trusted vaccine, yet we can say that we have won.

We must have a combined strong voice—public health, political leaders and all partners—to teach the communities the key message that Ebola is preventable.

The answer is within our limits. The answer is within public health.

~ Post by Charlie Plain 

 

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