ADDRESS BY THE DEPUTY VICE CHANCELLOR OF COMAHS ON THE OCCASION OF THE SWEARING-IN CEREMONY OF NEWLY QUALIFIED DOCTORS, PHARMACISTS AND PHARMACY TECHNICIANS, NURSES, MEDICAL LABORATORY SCIENTISTS AND TECHNICIANS FOR THE 2019/2020 ACADEMIC YEAR- APRIL 2021

 Mr. Chairman, The Hon. Minister of Technical and Higher Education, The Hon. Minister of Health and Sanitation, other Cabinet Ministers here present, Hon. Members of Parliament, The Pro Chancellor and Chairman of the University Court, other members of the University Court here present, The Vice Chancellor and Principal University of Sierra Leone, The Deputy Vice Chancellors of Fourah Bay College and the Institute of Public Administration and Management, the Registrar of the University of Sierra Leone, Registrars of the Health Regulatory Bodies in Sierra Leone, Distinguished Guests, Graduands, Staff and Students, Parents, Members of the Fourth Estate, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Morning. Let me first join my Deputy Registrar to warmly welcome you to this year’s Swearing-in-Ceremony of Newly Qualified Doctors, Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians, Nurses, Medical Laboratory Scientists and Technicians for 2019/2020 Session.

I have always, on such an occasion, expressed my inexplicable feeling of satisfaction for the Annual Swearing-in-ceremony of the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences; an occasion organized every year to showcase newly qualified Health professionals. There is always that sense of fulfillment when having worked so hard, we now reach the point where we can proudly present these fine ladies and gentlemen to you the parents, relatives and loved ones, and to society at large, as trained and qualified health professionals who have gone through the rigors of academic and professional training and screening.

Twenty-seven years today in 1994, this College organized the 1st Swearing-in-ceremony for its first crop of graduands. In that year, there were only 7 graduands. Since that period, the College has produced tens of hundreds of graduands in the various disciplines. In today’s ceremony, the college will present 53 newly qualified Doctors, 33 Pharmacists, 12 Medical Laboratory Scientists, 33 B.Sc. (Hons.) in Nursing, 25 Pharmacy Technicians, 128 Diploma in Nursing, 107 Certificate in Nursing, 8 Mental Health Nurses, 28 Certificate in Medical Laboratory Sciences, and 35 Certificate in Malaria Microscopy; for induction into their various professional bodies. We consider this a remarkable achievement not only for the graduands but for the college which in spite of its numerous challenges has been able to produce yet another crop of health professional in response to the urgent societal needs.

Mr. Vice Chancellor and Principal, distinguished Guests, ladies and gentlemen, as evidenced here this morning, we have been able to produce another crop of health professionals, in pursuit of our fundamental goal. This and much more we have been able to accomplish in spite of the several challenges facing the College.

Therefore, please permit me to highlight some of COMAHS’ achievements during the 2019/20 academic year under the following headings: 

FACULTIES AND PROGRAMMES

Mr. Chairman, 33 years ago, the Pioneers on whose vision the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, was established came to the realization that the country’s population was growing rapidly with an average life expectancy of 40 years as a result of heavy disease burden, poor health infrastructure and inadequate human resources for health; among other factors. The total complement of health professionals, with the appropriate skills mix, needed to ameliorate the situation through provision of service and training of the right quality and quantity was lacking. In addition, the high attrition rate among health professionals particularly doctors and nurses also compounded the problem. It was against this background that the Government of Sierra Leone in collaboration with the Nigeria Government and the World Health Organization established COMAHS on April 12, 1988, with the aim of producing health professionals with the appropriate skill mix to deliver quality health care services. Starting with an enrollment of only 12 students, 32 years later, the college’s enrollment rate has significantly increased. In the 2019/2020 academic year, the total number of students in the College was 2,083 of which 61% were females and 39% males.

Today, with the 2005 Universities ACT, COMAHS is one of the three constituent colleges of the University of Sierra Leone, with Fourah Bay College (FBC) and Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) being the others. The College has four faculties namely: Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Clinical Sciences, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Faculty of Nursing. These faculties run a number of programmes including Medicine, Pharmacy, Pharmacy Technician, Nursing {Diploma, B.sc (Hons)}, Medical Laboratory Sciences {Diploma & B.Sc. (Hons)}, Mental Health Nursing, Community Health Nursing, Ophthalmic Nursing, Nursing Education, Paediatric Nursing and Management, MSc in the Basic and Para-clinical Sciences and Masters in Public Health. We are also currently working very hard in collaboration of with our traditional partners to establish two additional faculties- faculty of dentistry, and faculty of public health and infectious diseases.

Although the demand for our programmes continues to increase, this year we were forced to reduce the entry requirements into our various programmes, in order to get the numbers. This was largely due to the poor performance of the science pupils at WASSCE. However, with the introduction of the free quality education we are hopeful that the performance of pupils at the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE) will increase; thereby increasing the number of qualified pupils meeting the minimum entry requirements into our programs.

(Make some comments on the entry requirements in the sub region)

CURRICULUM REVIEW, TEACHING AND LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

The curricula of all programmes within the College are being continually reviewed to reflect emerging and re-emerging issues. The Curriculum for the Bachelors of Nursing has been reviewed from general nursing into various sub specialties in Nursing, including Midwifery and Obstetrics Nursing; Medical and Surgical Nursing; Paediatric and Neonatal Nursing; Midwifery Education; Nursing Education; Nursing Anaesthesia, Critical Care Nursing, Mental health Nursing, and Ophthalmic Nursing with the potential of bringing on board Nephrology and Oncology Nursing.

These reviews are mainly informed by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation’s strategic goal of having specialized nurses in all critical specialty areas instead of having generic nurses being constantly rotated in these areas. Moreover, the proposed training of Critical Care Nurses fits very well into the Ministry’s plan of establishing High Dependency Units in all district and regional hospitals across the country.

Another major Curriculum development in the Faculty of Nursing is the introduction of direct entry into Midwifery.  The traditional practice has been completing Nursing training before pursuing Midwifery. There is now felt need to separate the two, making it possible for school leavers to apply for direct training in Midwifery.

Moreover, the College has taken steps to move Nursing training to another level by introducing M.Sc. training in all the sub specialty areas mentioned above. At this point, I wish to acknowledge and express our appreciation to Project Hope for the support in developing and setting up the modalities for the running of M.Sc. in Paediatric Nursing and Neonatal Nursing.

In the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, the Curriculum review for BPharm Honours was completed during the year under review and is now being implemented with effect from this 2020/2021 academic year. The new curriculum addresses emerging issues in the Pharmacy Profession, changing the focus from product-based to patient-centred; all in preparation for the introduction of the PharmD program in the not too distant future. The component on industrial posting has been prominently brought on board. Let me here also acknowledge and express appreciation to the Strategic Project for Higher Education Innovation and Research (SPHEIR) for the support provided to this end. 

FACULTY AND STAFF

Mr. Vice Chancellor and Principal, the College continues to face as one of its major limitations, inadequate number of teaching staff. The situation is gradually improving as a number of lecturers have been recruited and an impressive number of young faculty have returned from advanced training abroad and are now providing very essential services to the College. Where we stand today, we see great prospects for addressing this challenge in the not too distant future. We are very happy with the number of younger colleagues who are aspiring for both higher professional and academic qualifications. We currently have four in advanced stages of their PhD programs, and good number of others now committed not only to obtaining higher professional qualifications but also academic qualifications, thereby enhancing their capacities to contribute to academia. All of this with the commencement of local medical postgraduate training by the Ministry of Health and sanitation gives us a lot of hope for the sustainability of the College’s staffing situation.

As it stands, the college has a total of 103 academic staff of which four (4) are Professors, four (4) Associate Professors, four (4) Senior Lecturers, twenty-six (26) Lecturer I, sixty-five (65) Lecturer II; in addition to a plethora of Part time Lecturers and at least ten Guest and Visiting Lecturers at the minimum rank of a senior lecturer.  Let me at this point acknowledge and congratulate Dr James Russell and Haja Dr. Mrs Isata Wurie, two of our faculty who have been successfully assessed by the University Scoring Committee and found to be qualified to join the professorial rank of the University and are currently awaiting external assessment report.

The College continues to invest in upgrading and strengthening the much-needed capacity of her administrative and academic staff. In terms of capacity building, through partnership with Sierra Leone King’s College and Public Health England, we regularly organise pedagogical training for our staff. They also benefit periodically from exchange visits across institutions at national and international levels.  Mentorship trainings for our young researchers were also organised during the period under review.

A special Academic and Senior Administrative Staff Training Program was organised by the management of the college from 2nd to 6th November 2020 for Deans, Head of Departments, Senior and Senior Supporting staff to reacquaint them with existing policies, introduce them to emerging policies and best practices within the college and the university. A training that will intend to mount very year.

We are particularly heartened by the over 90% of faculty in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences who have undertaken the conversion programme to Pharm. D with the University of Benin, Nigeria. This puts the Faculty in readiness for the potential conversion of the BPharm (Hons.) to Pharm. D.

We are gradually weaning ourselves of the need to heavily rely on bringing in lecturers from the sub-region to enhance our training; we are not yet fully there, but we are getting there. Developing local capacities would not only save us hard currency, it would also give us a sense of security of the availability of highly qualified local trainers working within the University’s Conditions of Service, realizing the dream of the founders of the College.

Mr. Vice Chancellor and Principal, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, during the 2019/2020 academic year, the college lost five Senior Lecturers in the persons of Dr. Clifford Kamara, Dr. Samuel B. Seisay, Dr. Peter George, Dr. Samuel Juana Smith, Alhaji BMS Turay, and Mr. Harold Massaquoi; and Mr. Clifford Roberts former warden of students.

Mr. Chairman, with your permission, I am humbly requesting that we please rise and observe a minute silence in memory of these personnel. May their souls and the souls of the faithful departed rest in perfect peace ——Please be seated

INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT

My Administration has continued to prioritize infrastructural development, as we understand that the provision of a conducive teaching and learning environment is critical for effective teaching and learning. The expansion of the Faculty of Nursing teaching blocks has been completed, maintenance and renovation of the teaching blocks here the Kossoh Town Campus, Connaught, Ola During and PCMH are now regular aspects of our operations. We have also, in collaboration with our sister colleges in the University, undertaken the renovation of the FBC building at Lamina Sankoh Street for the housing of the proposed USL Research Centre.

While we continue to improve on our various facilities, we are faced with a bigger infrastructural challenge to build an ultra-modern centralize campus with teaching hospital; this however goes beyond the capacity of the College to address.

RESEARCH

Mr. Vice Chancellor & Principal, we are pleased to again report that the College continues to be a national leader on health research and capacity strengthening within Sierra Leone, generating the much-needed evidence to inform policy and practice.

The College is currently involved in needs-based research activities at both national and international levels to ensure that it continues to play a key role in the health system rebuilding and strengthening socio-economic development nationally and internationally.

Our current research portfolio includes 6 clinical trials, 6 Health systems research, and 5 disease specific research.

  1. Clinical Trials
    1. Multi Stage Malaria Consortium Vaccine (MMCV) trial funded by the European Developing Countries Clinical Trial Programme (EDCTP) and implemented in collaboration with Oxford University in UK.
    2. PREVAC UP funded by EDTCP and implemented in collaboration with INSERM in France and London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
    3. PREVAC, EBOVAC & EBOVAC 3 funded by Innovative Medicines
      Initiatives (IMI) within the European Commission and implemented in collaboration with Janssen and Janssen, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
    4. ICARIA funded by the Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation, and implemented in collaboration with Isglobal in Barcelona, Spain
  2. Health System Research
    1. ARISE – Accountability & Health in Informal urban settlements funded by the Global Challenge Research fund (GCRF) UK
    2. RECAP-USL funded by GCRF
    3. ASSET, Fragility Research Unit (HFRU), and Youth Forward projects funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), UK
    4. Rebuild for Resilience funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, formerly DFID
  3. Disease Specific Research
    1. HWI-COVID -19 funded by the Medical Research Council, UK
    2. LARCOS (Lassa Fever in Guinea & S/Leone) funded by Charit
      Universitacts/German Govt.
    3. Sisle stroke project funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), UK
    4. ORDER-HC funded by the German Government through Robert KocK Institute
    5. DAHMSLE, Diabetes and Hypertension, funded by the World Federation of Diabetes

PARTNERSHIPS AND LINKAGES

Mr. Vice Chancellor and Principal, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, the College has benefitted from its partnership and linkages with other institutions within the country, sub region and beyond.

Thus, I would like to acknowledge on behalf of the administration, the contributions and supports provided to the College by different stakeholders. The College Administration is particularly grateful to the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education and the Ministry of Finance for the support they have been providing over the years to COMAHS through subventions and award of scholarships to up to 80% of our students in the form of Grants-in-Aid. The College is particularly grateful to the Hon. Minister of Technical and Higher Education for his sustained interest in COMAHS and tertiary education in general.

The biggest of our partnerships, Mr. Vice-Chancellor & Principal, we have always maintained, has been with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. As a health training institution, we have strategically positioned ourselves to assist the Ministry in realizing its vision of attaining a high rate of trained and competent health professionals, staffing our various facilities across the country. Last year we reported the training and upgrading of 200 Midwives from Certificate to Diploma in Midwifery, considerably enhancing their skills and competencies in providing midwifery services. We are please to also inform you that we completed series of training for the Ministry’s Medical Laboratory personnel, trainings that proved most timely, as the personnel became very handy at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in Sierra Leone. We are also currently in the final year of the training and upgrading of 252 SECHNs to the professional level of State Registered Nurses, funded by the Ministry of health and Sanitation. They will be presented at the next Swearing-In Ceremony.

Mr. Vice Chancellor and Principal, Sir, we continue to enjoy the support of ICAP, IOM, Kings Sierra Leone Partnership, and coming in strongly in the 2019/2020 Session, Project Hope who have been very supportive with our training programmes at the Faculty of Nursing, taking special interest in Paediatric and Neonatal Nursing.

In addition, COMAHS has a growing number of active research and training collaborations with local and international partners including but not limited to:

  • The Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) (Spain)
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (UK)
  • Janssen and Janssen
  • INSERM, France
  • Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (UK)
  • Oxford University (UK)
  • King’s College London (UK)
  • King’s Sierra Leone Partnership
  • Queen Margaret University (UK)
  • Berlin University (Germany)
  • Boston College (USA)
  • University of Leeds (UK)
  • Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC – USA)
  • Tulane University (USA) 

ALUMNI

COMAHS organized its first Swearing-in-ceremony in 1994. From that time to date, the college has successfully produced hundreds of graduands in various disciplines within the health sector. The health professionals who constitute the Alumni are men, women who have excelled in their various fields of endeavor both in and out of the country, and of which I can proudly stand here today to say the current VC&P, myself other senior health workers are products of this noble Institution.

In previous Swearing-in ceremonies, it had become traditional to name and recognize all of them. It has however become practically impossible to do so now considering the fact that the numbers have swollen significantly over the years.

Notwithstanding this reality, I want, on behalf of the College Administration, to recognize the Alumni’s contribution in their service to humanity both within and outside of the country. But let me hastily add that as Alumni, this college, which is the bedrock of your success today, is looking up to you for a payback in any shape or form.

CHALLENGES

COMAHS, like any other institution, has its challenges, which range from funding, infrastructure, equipment, to Human Resource. In our efforts to meet these challenges, we require support not only from government but also from stakeholders in medical education, alumni, and bilateral development partners.

It has now become traditional for us, as a College, at this Swearing-In Ceremony to always reiterate our hope to have all of our facilities including staff quarters, laboratories and students’ hostels centralized at Kossoh Town. Operating from eight locations across Freetown, we have always lamented, does not make for efficient use of our meagre resources. Developing the Kossoh Town Campus, Mr. Vice Chancellor & Principal, is the most sustainable path the College should take – an undertaking the College cannot afford with its internally generated revenue which can barely meet our operational costs.

This time, I wish, through you, Mr. Vice-Chancellor & Principal, to direct our appeal to the Honorable Minister of Technical and Higher Education, taken into cognizance that COMAHS is the only public institution of higher learning which has never attracted infrastructural investment from government since inception. A concept paper of the facilities and structures we desire to have on this limited parcel of land is available. We now hope to have them translated in architectural drawings mapped out based on the physical land of the remaining 15 acres of what was originally 65.5 acres of land.

We trust that the Honorable Minister of Technical and Higher Education would explore funding opportunities for the construction of the structures and facilities, furnishing and equipping them to improve the quality of our delivery; as a fully developed Kossoh Town Campus would enhance the College’s capacity in playing the critical role of training a highly competent human resource for health for Sierra Leone.

GRADUANDS

Mr. Vice Chancellor and Principal, distinguished Guests, ladies and gentlemen, at this point, I would like to seize the opportunity to address the graduands. Over two decades ago, I stood where you stand today to swear to the oath as a graduand. Therefore, as I speak to you now, I have some idea of what may be going through most of your minds having gone through a similar experience. I am addressing you in the capacity of Deputy Vice Chancellor, Lecturer and Alumnus of this same noble Institution.

For almost all of you, this day symbolizes the climax of a long and difficult academic journey. I must however, hastily add that it is by no means the end of the road. In fact, it is a new beginning after the end. What is quite obvious, especially for some of us who went through a similar experience is the fact that the path you took to arrive at this glorious destination was full of challenges such as insomnia, tireless and endless examinations, Anti-social life style, panic anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, broken hearts and broken relationships.  But in the face of all of these challenges, you were able to weather the storm to be recognized and certified here today as Doctors, Pharmacists, Nurses, Pharmacy Technicians and Laboratory Scientists and Laboratory Technicians. On this occasion, you will therefore be presented as graduands who are worthy to take the solemn oath in line with the tradition of the health profession.

As a college we are extremely delighted, to present you to your parents, relatives and loved ones as not only young professionals but also as finished products of years of hard work and commitment by our academic and administrative staff on one hand, and by the cooperation and determination of you the graduands on the other.

Mr. Vice Chancellor and principal, distinguished Guests, ladies and gentlemen, these young men and women are deserving of our commendation because they have successfully brought honour to the college, themselves and their parents and guardians.  I am therefore kindly requesting you the graduands at this point, to please stand up for a round of applause.  On behalf of the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, and the University of Sierra Leone, I want to say congratulations to you for this remarkable achievement. Please be seated.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen, after today, these graduands will have the legal and moral right to use the title Doctor, Nurse, Pharmacist, Pharmacy Technician or Laboratory Scientist or Laboratory Technician. Young Colleagues, your career journey into the health profession starts after you have sworn your oath; and the totality of your output as a health professional is going to be watched, assessed and judged by patients and non-patients alike. Whether you are described as a good or bad health professional will depend on your work and more importantly your attitude to work and the nature of interactions you have with people. I also want to make a passionate appeal to you to please accept postings to other parts of the country as there is a huge mal-distribution of the few health professionals in Sierra Leone particularly for Doctors. Please remember, that Connaught, PCMH and Ola During hospitals are not the only health facilities were people go to seek treatment. A lot of our people are suffering in the districts with fewer hands to attend to them, so please be the exceptional ones to be willing to work in the districts.

In all of this, I pray that the good Lord will always be nearer to you, fill you with ever joyful peaceful hearts, keep and guide you when perplexed, free you from all evil and remain gracious to you. Always remember Psalm 23:6 that “Goodness and mercies shall follow you all the days of your life”. I wish you all the best in your future practice.

The huge contributions of your parents, guardians, and sponsors towards this achievement cannot go unrecognized. These were the people who while you were burning the midnight oil to score the required grades, were also busy working hard to provide the necessary support in the form of cash, logistics and emotional pacification. I am therefore requesting the parents and guardians to please stand up for a well deserving big round of applause ———, thank you very much and please be seated.

Not least in our line of appreciation are the lecturers and administrative staff of the College and the University. You contributed significantly to the lives of our graduands; first as imparters of knowledge and skills, and second as role models who demonstrated patience and understanding in the discharge of your duties; would all lecturers and staff please stand for a big round of applause ———, thank you very much and please be seated.

I also wish to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to all Academic, Administrative and Junior Staff and students of the College, for the cooperation and support they have always accorded my administration. Let me also take this opportunity to reassure you of my willingness to work with you and to give you my fullest support whenever required.

On a final note, let me on behalf of the staff and students of COMAHS, join the Deputy Registrar of the University of Sierra Leone to welcome you all to this occasion. 

Thank you very much.

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