Columbus State Part of New Effort to Mitigate Global Pandemic Threat

COLUMBUS, Ga. — A Columbus State University professor’s expertise related to social issues in her native Uganda, plus the university’s growing reputation for facilitating service learning, has CSU poised to contribute to a comprehensive initiative to mitigate the threat of global pandemics.

Columbus State sociology professor Florence Wakoko-Studstill will develop and oversee service learning and gender monitoring activities supporting an African-based project named “Capacity Building in Integrated Management of Zoonoses (animal-to-human transmittable) and Vector-borne (environment-based) Diseases.”

Wakoko said her involvement lays the groundwork for future service learning activity related to the project by CSU students. “This summer’s announcement of CSU making the (U.S.) President’s Honor Roll for Service Learning for the third straight year reinforced the project partnerships' attention to CSU’s role in service learning.”

Florence Wakoko-StudstillWakoko’s other, initial role calls for facilitating regional African-female engagement in the initiative, as she is one of a few social scientists among microbiologists and veterinary scientists representing 25 universities, including lead institutions North Dakota State University and Uganda’s Makerere University, where Wakoko, right, completed her undergraduate studies.

Dean David Lanoue said the project reflects “a high priority the College of Letters and Sciences places on service to local, statewide and even global communities. Professor Wakoko-Studstill’s work demonstrates the worldwide reach of Columbus State University, and the positive impact that our faculty and students can have on people’s lives as close as Muscogee County or as far away as east Africa.”

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development and coordinated by Higher Education for Development, the project is designed to develop “centers of excellence” to facilitate east and central African educators, scientists and farmers in working cooperatively for effective disease control management.

“As USAID Mission Director in Uganda Dave Eckerson eloquently stated,‘’We want to make sure the project has the potential to reach where the rubber hits the road’  in regard to the urgent needs of the people, especially food supply, disease surveillance, risk assessment and response to potential diseases that not only threaten livestock and food security, but also pose a threat to spread globally, like the recent flu cases involving H1N1 (swine) and H5N1 (avian),” Wakoko said.

According to USAID, about 70 percent of the human and animal pathogens affecting global trade are found in the sub-Saharan African region.

Limited capacities in trained manpower and facilities to grow, process and market food consistently are among the challenges cited by USAID in implementing sustainable disease management programs, along with “a significant decline in African university institutions to conduct research and extension programs that relate to animal health and the whole food value chain,” Wakoko said.

Wakoko, who has extensively researched and written about the evolution of women’s roles in Ugandan culture, said gender is a key variable in the project. “In order for this to work, more students, especially females, need to engage in microbiology and veterinary sciences. At the same time, a multidisciplinary approach to these problems is needed to ensure sustainability.”

In east African universities, female students constitute 20 percent of the the enrollment in these fields of study. “These low numbers have implications for managing trans-boundary animal diseases at the community level, where most subsistence farmers are women, Wakoko said. ”Beyond the gender issue, there is a need for African universities to change from conventional methods of learning to student-centered and experiential pedagogy. This is urgently needed in Africa to empower students and livestock farmers through collaborative research, advocacy and problem-solving skills.”

The project involving Wakoko is one of 22 recently funded ($1.1 million) USAID-HED initiatives to engage U.S. universities in building human and institutional capacity across Africa.

New Book Reflects Study Abroad Program

Wakoko’s newly released book about the effective use of microfinancing by Ugandan women could serve as a primer for a related Columbus State study abroad program in Uganda.

Women and Microfinance in Uganda: from Rhetoric to Empowerment (VDM Publishing) is Wakoko’s dissertation work, which examines how women in rural communities cope with economic hardship by using small loans through informal, community-operated credit unions. The idea of microlending in developing countries —put forth in the late 1970s by Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunus — has gained popularity among poor women in such countries.

In Uganda, the concept has benefited women who have filled a leadership void in households and on family farms due largely to two decades of war in the country’s northern region.

Rural women in Uganda continue to participate in rotating savings and credit associations and invest in entrepreneurial pursuits such as raising livestock, cash crop farming and handcrafting to meet household demands.

Meanwhile, the May 13-June 4, 2011 study abroad program “Culture, Health and Women’s Organizations in Uganda” offers students first-hand experience of the country’s folkways and patterns of social life.

The program is designed to broaden students’  knowledge about local health issues and women’s efforts to support orphans and wield personal empowerment. For information about the program, go to http://cie.colstate.edu/uganda.asp.

For more information on the USAID-HED project, go to http://www.hedprogram.org/.