Four East Africa medical centres of excellence underway

The African Development Bank has released US$98 million for the establishment of four East Africa centres of excellence in biomedical sciences, to be established at universities in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. A fifth centre will be created later in Burundi.

The centres will serve as top regional institutions training medical personnel in non-communicable diseases, in fields including nephrology and urology, cardiovascular diseases, biomedical engineering, e-health and tele-medicine – the delivery of health services via mobile phone applications – and oncology.

Kenya will host the East Africa Kidney Institute, and the East Africa Oncology Institute will be located in Uganda. Tanzania will host the East Africa Heart Institute, while the East Africa Biomedical Engineering Institute will be established in Rwanda, including e-health.

The second phase will see the establishment of a centre of excellence in nutritional sciences in Burundi, thus involving all five countries that comprise the East African Community, the African Development Bank announced last weekend.

The universities of Nairobi, Makerere, Rwanda and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania, and their ministries of health, will implement the project with best practice and benchmarking lessons from some of the world’s top universities.

While the African Development Bank, or AfDB, approved the financing of the centres in October 2014, it is not until this month that the funds have been released and countries have kicked off the process of advertising for tenders for civil works.

The AfDB financing represents 91% of the entire project cost, which is estimated at US$108 million, with the hosting countries expected to provide the balance.

International partnerships

Each teaching university will be free to pick any university or medical teaching centre to collaborate with for purposes of knowledge transfer and best practice benchmarking.

Kenya’s Kidney Training Institute will operate as part of the University of Nairobi’s college of health sciences and will be based at Kenyatta National Hospital, the university’s teaching hospital.

The university has already formulated collaboration, networking and knowledge transfer agreements with the Institute of Urology and Nephrology in Barcelona in Spain and Seattle University in the United States.

Makerere University in Uganda will establish links with two universities in the United States – Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Case Western Reserve University in Ohio – as well as the University of British Columbia in Canada, and the Aga Khan University in Pakistan. These universities will assist with faculty development, curricula and programme design, setting up best practices research and publishing.

“The centres of excellence will provide leadership in postgraduate education, training and research services to cater for the ever increasing needs for specialised medicare in the region,” said the bank in a statement.

They would work to achieve the best standards in the field, and would be provided with state-of-the-art biomedical equipment and clinical systems.

The AfDB explained that every year thousands of East Africans sought specialised medical care abroad, mainly in India, Europe and South Africa – countries that have more advanced health care facilities and skills.

“The specific objective of the project is to provide a high quality, competitive and skilled workforce in the East African Community for social and economic development. Once functional, the centres of excellence will establish a network to support benchmarking in quality enhancement as well as joint research,” according to an AfDB project document.

Regional integration and benefits

The centres of excellence will benefit the estimated 150 million people in the five countries of the East African Community, or EAC, by boosting affordable, quality and accredited skills, tertiary institutions and services in biomedical sciences.

During phase one, the centres will aim to train 150 students in postgraduate programmes – 140 masters and 10 PhD students – as well as 300 people on short courses from the region and Central Africans who are studying in East Africa.

“The project is in line with the Bank’s Human Capital Strategy 2014-2018 regarding skills development for competitiveness and jobs,” said the bank's statement.

“It is based on the strategy’s New Education Model for Africa which aims to address the labour market needs-skills mismatch, adopt the application of ICT, and support research and regional integration through creation of regional centres of excellence.”

A project coordination unit in each country will oversee the implementation of the centres, working closely with the EAC secretariat on regional integration project activities.

The centres of excellence will enable the EAC to increase its capacity and competitiveness by expanding top-end higher education and specialised service delivery. They will also create jobs for professionals and support services through ‘medical tourism’ within the region as well as from other African regions.

The initiative will also advance regional integration of higher education.

The EAC heath department, in collaboration with the Inter-University Council for East Africa and national commissions for higher education, will be supported to develop regional postgraduate admission criteria and guidelines in biomedical sciences.