In a hospital where waiting lines of patients arrive before eight am, a small computer room is an oasis for surgical interns. Funded by Irish Aid and developed as part of a programme with the Royal College of Surgeons, the room is a small step towards having more surgeons in Uganda.
Interns in Ugandan hospitals typically do far more practical work than study. This room is part of a programme linking the interns online with classes and lecturers to right that balance.
Thick blue curtains on the door block out the noise, and give the interns a chance to get together in peace. And in a city where steady internet coverage is still far off, the coverage in here allows them to read and interact online with their peers.
Mulago Hospital, a key referral hospital for the country of over 30 million, works with Ireland through a partnership with the College of Surgeons Eastern Central and Southern Africa.
Another partnership, between Cork University Hospital and the Omdurman Maternity Hospital in Sudan "is associated with an 86 per cent reduction in maternal mortality and a 50 percent drop in stillbirths and early neonatal deaths," according to the Irish Minister for Trade and Development, Joe Costello.
These and projects are set to receive a boost through Ireland’s new membership of an international health alliance, ESTHER. According to Irish Aid, both projects are now under its umbrella and other projects are expected to apply to the programme this year.
The ESTHER alliance was set up in 2002 in France, initially focusing on tackling HIV/AIDS, and has since expanded its remit to encourage medical partnership between European hospitals and those in developing countries. Working with 40 partner countries, more than 120 projects were in place by 2012.
ESTHER Ireland, launched at the end of June, is a cooperation between the Health Service Executive and Irish Aid. Minister Costello sees joining this project as a way to build on Ireland’s existing health-links especially in Africa.
Speaking at the launch, he said:
“Partnerships such as these will contribute to major, sustainable improvement to health systems in those countries which are most vulnerable. They will also benefit Irish health professionals, who will gain invaluable experience and new skills.”
Health institutions involved with partnerships in the developing world are encouraged to contact ESTHER. Typical partnerships could involve public and private hospitals, primary care and community level institutions, health service units and departments, universities and other higher level training and research institutions.
Broader arrangements between NGOs, civil society organisations and their communities are also encouraged to apply.
One of the key benefits to be part of the ESTHER network is easier access to funding, based on the strict application criteria. However ESTHER does not offer funding – applicants can avail of advice and access to networking and mentoring opportunities.
Tony O’Brien, newly appointed head of the HSE said at the launch of the Irish agreement:
“ESTHER Ireland builds on links already established by Irish health institutions with developing countries.
“The partnership approach means there are benefits on both sides, and the programme will contribute to improving quality of health care in Ireland as well as in the partner countries.”