Reproductive health (RH) has been defined as: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of diseases or infirmity of the reproductive system”. RH addresses the reproductive processes, functions and systems at all stages of life, and includes fertility regulation, safe motherhood, infant and child survival, sexually transmitted disease including HIV/AIDS, and the prevention of unsafe abortion. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that RH accounts for about 20% of the global burden of disease. As a result of its effects on population dynamics, its practice is a central consideration in global development. It was therefore not surprising that five of the eight Millennium Development Goals agreed to by world leaders for promoting global development at the turn of the new Millennium were founded on the principles of RH.
A major development challenge in West Africa is the poor state of reproductive health as evidenced by high rates of fertility, maternal mortality, and unsafe abortion in the region. All of the 15 countries in West Africa have some of the lowest contraceptive prevalence rates and highest population growth rates in the world, a situation which presents huge economic and social burden with adverse consequences for the region’s growth and development. Nigeria as an example currently has the second highest number of maternal deaths, the highest number of infant deaths and the second highest burden of HIV/AIDs in the world. The country also has the highest number of under-aged marriages, gender-based violence, and sex trafficking in Africa. Despite this high burden of reproductive ill-health, Nigeria has yet to integrate RH into its health and educational system due to a deficit of qualified human resources to address this developmental challenge. There are currently limited educational programs that build the capacity of undergraduate and post-graduate students to undertake service delivery and research for the purpose of improving key indicators of RH in the region. There is a need to raise an adequate number of human resources to develop and implement appropriate policies and programs for reducing rapid population growth and advancing growth and development in the region. It is only through such efforts that the region will witness genuine growth and planned comprehensive development anytime soon.
The Centre of Excellence in Reproductive Health Innovation (CERHI) will build capacity within West Africa’s tertiary educational system for implementing high quality training and applied research for reproductive health professions to tackle policies and programs for reducing the region’s high burden of fertility, unsafe abortion, maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS.
Specific Objectives of the Centre include the
- Training of students and technical experts/policymakers through short courses on relevant fertility, maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS and reproductive health policy topics in the region.
- Masters in reproductive health, public health, health economics and nursing
- Ph.Ds in reproductive health, public health, and nursing
- Develop regional laboratory capacity to support HIV/AIDS and other reproductive health related problems
Under CERHI, short term courses, Masters and PhD courses of study in RH, public health, nursing, health economics, and reproductive health law will be re-designed and reviewed at 3 levels: first by the individual departments, followed by a curriculum review workshop involving regional, selected international partners and industry stakeholders and sector planners which is a novel approach to curriculum development. Finally, the Departments will team up with identified international partner institutions to finalize the curricular and the Center will then be responsible for coordinating the execution of these novel programs. The idea is to ensure that the curricular meet specific regional development needs, and that they are relevant globally to resource limited settings and are of sufficient quality they can be accredited by international accreditation bodies. Through CERHI’s regional and international collaborations the best of the region’s resources will be brought together making it a true Centre of excellence in the discipline of reproductive health. New applied research methodologies will also be developed and staff will be trained to use both the curricular as well as these methodologies. Faculty and students will be recruited from the West African region to build regional capacity and collaboration.
Important Changes Made
The University of Benin strongly believes that CERHI will make significant contributions to improving the quality of training of reproductive health professionals in West Africa through improving training, applied research and research infrastructure. This center will implement new short courses, masters degrees and PhD degrees in public health, nursing, reproductive health and health economics. Within the university the academic approval system has fast tracked the center processes by designating individuals devoted to center related tasks allowing rapid development of the center. A key strategy to this is pooling resources from partner institutions for sensible and cost-effective use of faculty for teaching and student thesis mentorship. These partnerships between national, regional and international institutions will distinguish the Centre ensuring that it makes a sustainable contribution to reducing the present high rates of fertility, maternal mortality, unsafe abortion and HIV/AIDS in the region.
Key Outputs for CERHI’s activities include the following:
- New Masters and PhDs programs in reproductive health, public health, nursing and health economics
- Staff and students participating in outreach experience into the private sector and other regional partners
- Delivery of short courses on reproductive health related topics
- Formation of regional partnerships to increase regional faculty and students at the center
- Increased academic productivity by Center students and faculty through academic paper output and research grant applications
Increased academic productivity by center student and faculty through academic paper output and