Spotlight: Urban Health Policy in Uganda
“Working in an urban setting calls for creativity and innovation. Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) as an urban health provider employs innovativeness and creativity to ensure health system strengthening. It is important to stay open-minded as urban settings are continuously evolving.”
Dr. Ayen Okello is the Deputy Director of Public Health and Environment at the Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) in Uganda. KCCA’s mission is to deliver quality services to the city and its dwellers.
With regards to implementation science in urban settings, Dr. Okello says, “Urban health is a new concept presenting an opportunity to learn and collaborate with partners by leveraging research for evidence generation and sharing.” In his work, implementation science creates a platform to learn and adapt best practices from partners, which is important for addressing the challenges of the city’s continuous transformation.
In June of this year, Dr. Okello participated in the urban health roundtable consultation in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, organized by the East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA-HC). He noted that the meeting facilitated an opportunity to collaborate, learn, and adapt (CLA) between partners.
“We were able to recognize what we are doing well, and are learning from others’ best practices” said Dr. Okello.
“I was also excited to be part of the meeting because it created a platform on which to form a network of cities. Cities are the new hot spots. They are increasingly being recognized as the areas for change in the country because they have less bureaucracy” said Dr. Okello
At the ECSA-HC roundtable consultation, Dr. Okello learned the value of documentation, a skill he can share with other colleagues back home. He also recognized the urgent need to partner with research institutions to support him in data collection and analysis that could be used to inform city-planning agendas.
One of Dr. Okello’s achievements is reflecting the importance of urban health in policy. The 2015/16- 2019/20 Ugandan Health Sector Development Plan Agenda now includes a half-page write-up on the importance of urban health initiatives. This initiative is bringing urban health-related affairs to the forefront of national policy.
Dr. Okello’s work is not without challenges. The biggest challenge he has encountered thus far is the limited understanding of the urban health context by the country at large. He remarks, “People do not recognize the urgency in planning for urban centers.” He also adds that absence of a set network to discuss similar urban health related challenges has been detrimental to progress in this sector.
Looking to the future, Dr. Okello believes that implementation science is a vehicle that can improve service delivery in urban areas. He believes implementation science will help redefine policy, and that by facilitating the use of available evidence, Kampala will be better positioned to advocate for efficient and effective approaches in the urban setting.