Supporting education for development

One of Fobzu’s key priorities is to strengthen the role of education in the wider development of Palestinian society. As part of our approach, we aim to raise funds in 2015 to contribute to a postgraduate programme at Birzeit University’s Institute of Community and Public Health (ICPH). 

ICPH

The ICPH was informally established in 1978. It became a department in 1982 and an institute in 1998. Initially, work focused on action-oriented research and needs assessments, linking university activities to the social action that took place during the 1980s. In this way, the ICPH was able to centre on emerging needs and institutional development independent of Israel. 

Cooperating with local and international non-governmental organisations, the ICPH worked towards developing Palestinian primary health care, which included a women’s health component. By 1989 and the first intifada, the ICPH was cooperating with different groups to develop a Palestinian community-based disability rehabilitation programme. Then, from 2000 onwards, it started to focus on mental health and chronic diseases programming, in line with emerging needs. The Institute’s activities were cyclical in nature and its tasks at that time were primarily those of researching needs, planning, developing training materials and monitoring and evaluating.

It was only in 1993, as a result of the signing of the Oslo Accords, that the Institute could really start thinking seriously about developing a teaching programme. Under the Accords, responsibility for health and other spheres were handed over to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and as a result, the need for public health training emerged.  Following a needs assessment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the ICPH identified where to focus their attention and the type of teaching programme that would be the most effective. The results of the needs assessment were discussed with various local and international groups and endorsed by World Health Organisation at the time.

The ICPH began its teaching programme in 1996, having developed curricula that corresponded to needs. The programme took a multidisciplinary approach, working on the basis that health is a social construct requiring actions from different spheres, not only health. 

The institute graduated its first cohort of Public Health Master’s degree (MPH) students in 1998, and has been teaching this course ever since. Over the years, the Institute has taken care to select students working not only in health but in different sectors, such as education, industry, agriculture and social services. As a result, some of its alumni’s most successful actions in health have been achieved at the Ministry of Education, local health NGOs and also the statistics department of the Ministry of Health. The ICPH currently has around 350 alumni, many of whom are still in touch with the institute in various ways, and has around 30-40 students at any one moment in time. 

The background of students participating in the teaching programme has changed over the years. Initially, they were mid-level managers in the health, education and other sectors that had been taken over by the Palestinian Authority, as well as local, and some international, non-governmental organization personnel.  The ICPH initially worked to build the capacity of existing health staff, but as they fulfilled that need over time, they began to build the capacity of future generations of public health professionals – working with younger, less experienced students.

From its inception, the MPH programme was built with the concept of institutional and societal development at its core. The ICPH designed activities geared towards remaining in close contact with changes on the ground – developing a programme of field visits, where staff would visit students in their workplace to research the structural constraints to turning what they learned into action and discover how best to apply teaching in practice. This approach allowed them to follow the changes in the health system closely and to adjust curricula accordingly. In the early years of the ICPH, the health of the Palestinian population was undergoing a transition, from communicable to chronic and non-communicable diseases, and field visits were crucial in keeping the Institute in touch with developments. 

The ICPH also played an important part in affecting the necessary changes for better public health practice by running special scholarship schemes for individuals working in local institutions.

The ICPH’s invaluable approach is, however, dependent on international funding. It is in urgent need of support if it is to continue its regular needs assessments, updating its curricula every 2-3 years, conducting field visits and maintaining its alumni association. All of these aspects of the ICPH’s work go beyond the university’s regular activities and cannot be covered by the cost of tuition fees. Without further funding, there is a risk that the MPH programme would become a regular academic programme and lose its special developmental focus, which is essential for the future of Palestinian health.

That is why Fobzu is working to support the ICPH’s current work and to rejuvenate some of its previous activities. We are seeking funding to help support curriculum development, scholarships for individuals working in health institutions, field work costs, alumni association support (including field visits, continuing education and conferences), Master’s thesis fellowships and internships for students completing research to publish papers in scientific journals.

If you want to help ensure this vital programme continues, please DONATE TODAY