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Kenya medical students: What do the SDGs have to do with health and peace?

September 8, 2016

By Dr. Peter Mburu, Kenya Association of Physicians and Medical Workers for Social Responsibility (IPPNW-Kenya)

Myself and other members of the Kenya Association of Physicians and Medical Workers for Social Responsibility (APMS) held a student workshop recently at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, the highland home base of Kenyan athletes. We were invited by the Moi student chapter, and in the APMS tradition, we tackled a theme chosen by the students – in this case, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


Graphic: BBC News

We decided to discuss the SDGs relevant to our IPPNW work, with which some of the 35 participating students were aware as a result of having taken the Medical Peace Work (MPW) course online or as new members of Medical Students for Social Responsibility (MSSR). Our primary objective was to link healthcare to peace building with the SDGs in mind and, second, to build student capacity for advocacy, so that whatever projects they choose they will be armed with knowledge and facts.

sdgs-logoWe tackled the following SDGs:

  • 3, on promoting healthy lives and wellbeing;
  • 4, on inclusive and equitable lifelong education for all;
  • 5, on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls;
  • 7, on affordable clean energy;
  • 11, on safe cities and human settlement;
  • 16, on promotion of peaceful and sustainable societies, and;
  • 17, on global partnerships.

We emphasized these because they fit well into the work we have done in the past as well as the main themes and body of work of APMS.

After Dr. Ahmednasir Omar, the APMS chair, spoke about the history and work of APMS and IPPNW affiliation, he led a short brainstorming session on possible projects based on what they had heard that far into the session, which yielded some very good ideas, especially on peace building with the election year bearing down on us and, to our surprise, mental health issues featured prominently. Advocacy for nuclear weapons abolition and topics such as the refugee crisis were also discussed.

Workshop participant Ashwinder Bhamra “One of the most significant messages I personally took from the conference was the magnitude of the nuclear warfare problem from a global perspective. Before this, I was one of the many who frankly did not take notice of what the mere presence of nuclear arms means for us. In as much as I was aware of and tried to empathise with the victims of past nuclear massacres such as Hiroshima or Chernobyl, I never truly considered that nuclear warfare would ever be a problem for me to think about… What was most intriguing about the MSSR initiatives was that …projects  cut across environmental protection, social and public health care, areas of neglected healthcare in this setting such as mental health, among others – goals in line with the targets of the SDGs. Simply hearing about these projects helped me realise the multidimensional elements that truly make up  healthcare in society.”

On SDG 3, I spoke about how armed conflict contributes negatively to the healthcare burden, human displacement, violent crime, increases injustice and how it all stunts the economic growth of the country. I mentioned how SDGs 11 and 16 are important in the context of the ongoing work of the arms trade treaty accession and implementation. On 7, I spoke about the work we do with other African affiliates and global partners in bringing to light the issue of uranium mining on the continent in countries like South Africa, Tanzania, and Chad. They watched a short part of the film “LEGACY WARNINGS” produced by the team (ujuzi is the Swahili term for knowledge), who followed the IPPNW team that climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for K-Project last year.

I also spoke about the various organizations we talk to and have partnered with both locally as well as the global networks needed to maintain the campaign work and advocacy everywhere. I mentioned the growing networks of youth groups taking up this challenging work. This touched on number 17 on global partnerships together with our very successful exchange program with IPPNW Germany. Japan IPPNW (JPPNW) has also expressed a wish to establish a similar exchange program with Hiroshima and Nagasaki Universities mentioned when they invited me to sit in for their annual General Meeting as a side event during the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons and 70-year commemoration Youth Summit in Hiroshima last year.

Workshop participant Hategekimana Bahati, medical student, Kenya immigrant, and a winner of the ELS Educational services, Inc., and United Nations Academic Impact 2016 “Many languages, One World” essay contest, speaking on refugees: “As global citizens, refugees shouldn’t feel alienated. Nobody should feel belittled because of their ethnicity, race, gender, social status, education level or because of any other parameters of division. These parameters ought to be opportunities to love, to help, to genuinely care for the disadvantaged in our society…Global citizenship is all about human kind being one rather than being divided by any and all forms of stratification. This could be gender, class, occupation, culture, language, among many others. It should be about seeking to understand others before being understood…You appreciate all cultures with their differences. None is better than the other, we are simply different.”

Capacity building

Dr. Daniel Mutonga, APMS Secretary, then spoke about Open Access which is an important part of all our advocacy workshops as we emphasize using research methods for our projects and as a foundation for all advocacy arguments. Since a lot of research results are not available to us, it is an important agenda as students of science that we have to teach everywhere we go to raise awareness. As outgoing regional rep for Open Access advocacy, he is well versed with work around the globe and has previously worked with University of Nairobi medical school librarians to have an Open Access week at the school. This is one of the projects we hope to expand to other Universities countrywide and hopefully it will fall well with SDG 4.

The students had created t-shirts to raise money for the event planning and publicize the workshop and used social media as well.kenya-student-t-shirt

We closed with a very late lunch before heading back to Nairobi.

Workshop participant Hategekimana Bahati quote: …to prevent that which we cannot treat…This is a core statement in this fight to abolish the use of nuclear weapons, and a mantra that all medical personnel should uphold.”


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