Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  Contact Us
Linking Young Minds Together
     Volume 2 Issue 92 | November 2, 2008|


   News Room
   Career Scope
   Fun Times
   Music Review
   Movie Review

   Star Campus     Home


James P Grant School of Public Health @ BRAC University

Mahdin Mahboob

With a vision of 'A world where everyone enjoys the maximum potential of health', the James P Grant School of Public Health at BRAC University has made a significant mark in public health education in Bangladesh and in South Asia in general.

In South Asia, one of the first public health institutions was the school of Tropical Medicine, which was set up in Kolkata in 1922. After that, similar institutions soon began to appear in the region, but according to a WHO report, most of these schools in India and other South Asian countries failed to create major impact due to 'neglect, assignment of lowest priority, low prestige, poor quality of staff, and inadequate facilities such as transport and field practice areas'.

To integrate community experiences in public health education, the Rockefeller Foundation helped set up a few schools of public health in Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Vietnam. However, the number of such types of schools were much less compared to the demands.

To address the many problems that public health is facing, and to test new teaching/learning methodologies, BRAC, one of the largest development organizations in the world, set up a school of Public Health in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Named after the late executive director of UNICEF, the James P Grant School of Public Health is today breaking new ground in innovative teaching and in creating leaders for public health in developing countries.

During the formation of the school, BRAC collaborated with prestigious public health schools in developed countries including Johns Hopkins and Columbia Universities to develop the curriculum. Guest Professors from those schools also teach in some of the school's courses. "The idea of setting up the school grew from BRAC's continued effort in alleviating poverty in disadvantaged parts of the world," says Professor AMR Choudhury, Dean of the school.

The Program
Since its commencement in 2005, three batches of 77 participants from 14 countries have now graduated from the school through its Master of Public Health (MPH) programme. In the current acadmeic year, there are 12 students from 11 countries of Asia, Africa, Europe and North America and 18 students from Bangladesh. While some of the students from the earlier batches have continued on to doctoral-level studies, most are now back in their own countries and have taken up jobs in various government, donor agencies, media and non-governmental organizations.

Uniqueness of the program
The James P Grant School has several features which makes it stand apart from its counterparts.

1) It emphasises on both the art and science of public health. Apart from the MPH and the several other short courses that the school offers, the faculty members are involved in research on important issues that Bangladesh and other low-income countries face.

2) The location of the school is in a developing country, thus providing a 'social laboratory' for teaching and learning.

3) The fact that it is placed in a development organisation like BRAC which has total commitment to help the poor and the disadvantaged and which tries to blur the artificial divide between health and development and its vast human, material and infrastructural resources.

In the December 2007 issue of the widely circulated Bulletin of the World Health Organization, the school has been featured and the article states that, “[The school] is one of a new breed of public health institutions based in a developing country. It offers courses relevant to Bangladesh as well as international public health issues, and attracts students from both developing and developed countries.”

In 2006, the school organized the launching of Bangladesh Health Watch Report and Professor Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate was present as the Chief Guest in the occasion. Speaking on the occasion, he emphasized that increased slogan of privatization cannot provide health services to all citizens and basic public sector services are essential to provide health security. He drew upon his experiences in China and India and noted that in China, privatization worked for agriculture and industry but not for health. He cautioned that in the name of privatization, we should not be quick to accept and legitimize quacks and fraudulent practitioners. He also emphasized the importance of democracy and the right to information and strengthening of citizen's voices, which create pressure for better health and services for all citizens.

Also present in that occasion was Mr. Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson of BRAC who emphasized the role of proper management in solving the nation's health problems. He assured that this initiative would, in the future, investigate focused issues through grassroots level investigations.

Faculty Members
The faculty members in this school comprise of core faculty members and others from BRAC, ICDDR,B and foreign partner institutions. For each course there is a foreign faculty member and one or more local counterparts. The school plans to gradually reduce dependence on foreign faculty through induction of more core faculty.

* Research is a core function of any vibrant academic institution and this school is no exception. Current research projects of the school include:

* Monitoring Equity in the Bangladesh health system (with ICDDR,B and MoH).

* Study on sexual and reproductive health and rights (with IDS/Sussex, Indepth Network, Engender Health, etc.)

* Global Health Equity Project (The World Bank).

The Centre for Health Systems Studies of the school has the potential of strengthening the health system in Bangladesh by informing, guiding and systematically evaluating policies of the health sector and to promote population health. In addition to the launching of the Health Watch Report, the centre has undertaken a number of research activities. Currently, a study is being done on the public private partnership service delivery models in Bangladesh. Dr. Mushtaque Chowdhury oversees the Centre as Director while Dr. Sabina Faiz Rashid serves as the Coordinator of the Centre.

The Centre for Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS, established in collaboration with UNAIDS is designated for research, policy, advocacy and training activities utilizing the state-of-the-art methods and technologies of teaching/learning and providing unique opportunities in hands-on field experience in dealing with gender, sexuality, and HIV/AIDS in Bangladesh and other developing countries.

Modern healthcare is about disease control and MPH is about learning methods and techniques to control disease in the grassroots levels in developing countries including Bangladesh. James P Grant School of Public Health, through its continued quest for success, should serve as a model for similar institutions in Bangladesh and in other South Asian countries.


Interview of Mushtaque Chowdhury

Dean of the James P Grant School of Public Health

Mushtaque Chowdhury, PhD is the Dean of the BRAC University James P Grant School of Public Health. He is the Deputy Executive Director of BRAC where he oversees the health programs, which include maternal, newborn and child health, tuberculosis control, water, sanitation and hygiene, HIV/AIDS prevention, and nutrition.

Dr. Chowdhury is also a Professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University in New York, and serves on the boards of many international initiatives and journals. He was a co-coordinator of the Millennium Task Force on Child Health and Maternal Health and of the Joint Learning Initiative Working group on Priority Diseases. He is the co-recipient of the 'Innovator of the Year 2006' award given by the Marriott Business School of Brigham Young University in USA for his work in making reading glasses available to the poor for improved livelihood.

In an interview with Mahdin Mahboob of Star Campus, Dr Chowdhury has spoken about the various aspects of the MPH program at BRAC University.

Star Campus (SC): The MPH Program at BRAC University is known to be the first of its kind (among private universities) in the country and one of the world's best. Please tell us in details how this program has ranked compared to other such schools worldwide and in Bangladesh?
Dr. Mushtaque Chowdhury (DMC): The BRAC School of Public Health was set up in 2004. The flagship programme of the School is the Master of Public Health (MPH), which opened its door to students in early 2005. Afterwards, many other universities in the private sector have also started MPH programmes. This proves two things: one is that the BRAC School is a pioneer and the second is that there is a demand for such a degree in Bangladesh. Globally, the BRAC School has earned a name for itself already. In any meeting on public health education, we are invited to share our experiences. The US universities implementing global health programmes have recently started a consortium and we were invited to speak at its launching at the University of California in San Francisco. The Bulletin of the World Health Organization, a most prestigious journal published by WHO, show-cased six schools in the world as examples of innovation and the BRAC School was one of them.

SC: Who are the students that study for this program? Are there scholarship opportunities for meritorious Bangladeshi / International students?
DMC: We take 30 students every year for the MPH. Diversity is an important aspect of any educational programme and that's why we ensure that half of our students are women, half are non-physicians (meaning half are doctors) and half are international. In the current batch the students come from 12 countries of Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. To attract the best students, we do offer scholarships. However, students coming from the first world have to pay the full tuition.

SC: What are the biggest achievements of this program?
DMC: The School has already made a mark for itself in the world of public health education. It is a young institution but we already have graduated 77 students through the MPH programme. Hundreds of others have attended short courses that we offer on various public health issues. All the graduates are now employed in governments, NGOs, universities, research organizations, media and donor agencies and are contributing to improving the health of the population, which is our ultimate aim. The School is also contributing to many current debates in public health. It works as the Secretariat for the Bangladesh Health Watch, a civil society initiative. In the most recent report of the Watch, the issue of the human resources in health was highlighted. It sparked a lot of attention among different stakeholders. There are a number of ways through which a higher education programme is evaluated. One robust indicator is how the reputed universities in the North (and South) recognize the degrees offered by BRAC School. As of now, several of our graduates have been accepted for PhD programmes at Harvard, Columbia, George Washington, University of California and London. These are indications of the high esteem that these universities treat our graduates with. Also, the Asia Pacific Academic Consortium for Public Health (APACPH), a prestigious regional organization has accorded recognition to the BRAC School by electing it as a member. In addition, the school has attracted donor attention. For example, the European Commission recently awarded the BRAC School over five million Euros to carry out a Food Security and Nutritional Surveillance Project (FSNSP) for the next five years.

SC: What are the research facilities for students of this program?
DMC: In the MPH programme, the students are required to do an original research work. In this they are supervised by accomplished researchers based in Bangladesh. Students get only about 10 weeks to complete this thesis work but they have shown how much useful work can be accomplished in this short period. Many students have published their thesis in reputed journals.

SC: What makes the BRACU MPH program unique?
DMC: The BRAC School is unique in many ways. The first is its location in Bangladesh and hosting by BRAC and its wide network. This provides a social laboratory accessible to its students which no other institution in the world can offer. The second is the partnership we have with many institutions in Bangladesh and abroad, both for teaching and research. The ICDDR,B is the most important partner with its world-class scientists, research facilities and libraries. The third is the emphasis that we attach to both the art and science of public health. Research is an integral part of life at the School. Advocacy for health is also equally emphasized. The fourth is the emphasis on community-based experiential learning. The first six months of the MPH is conducted in a rural site where the students reside and regularly interact with villagers through exercises illustrating public health in practice. In the Dhaka semester the students continue their community learning by interacting with urban residents particularly the slum dwellers. The fifth is the diversity. Our student body is diverse and so is the faculty. The faculty who come from within and outside Bangladesh bring wide experiences from around the world. You get the best of Harvard, Columbia, Hopkins, Amsterdam, London, Karolinska, Kerala, ICDDR,B and BRAC in one place!

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2008