The Director, Institute of Child Health of the University of Ibadan, Professor Olukemi Amodu, speaks about the institute’s focus and aspirations in this interview with TOLUWALOPE KAREEM
What is the University of Ibadan Institute of Child Health all about?
The Institute of Child Health was established in 1960 for the Nigerian child. Our major focus is research on child health, and we have been doing that for 60 years now. In recent years, we have been doing a lot more work on research and training, not only on children-related diseases but also on adolescents and adults. Most of our research is on child health and adolescent health but we know that the foundation of most health conditions and things that we see even in old age are from childhood. So, we have been expanding our research into diseases that manifest among adults. We also carry out research on genetics and social behavioural health studies.
Apart from researches, does the institute do any other thing?
The ICH has three main thrusts – research, training, and services. Regarding research, we carry out several studies on child health, adolescent health, genetics, social and behavioural health. On training, we have several post-graduate programmes. We have master’s programmes in Public Health and PhD in Child and Adolescent Health. We also have a master’s programme in Public Health Biotechnology and a PhD programme.
These programmes are unique in Nigeria because we are the only institution that graduates students in MPH Child and Adolescent Health and M.Sc. Public Health Biotechnology. So, we are not just first in Nigeria but in Africa as well. This is an important aspect of ICH. So, we train students, and we also do community services. We also have immunisation clinics.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact on the operations of the institute?
When I assumed office as Director in August 2019, the question I asked myself was: How can we make our international collaborators impact us at the institute? How can we get them to help teach? We saw the difference in the performance of students and our graduates because of this interaction. So, we felt the need to bring them closer to us and this birthed the idea of e-classroom.
We wanted international collaborators to become an integral part of our teaching staff at the institute and we had started on that path. And the next thing was how to bring them closer and make them teach through roundtable discussions. That was how we came up with the idea of the e-classroom. Interestingly, the e-classroom is more relevant now because of COVID-19. When we started out in 2019, there was no COVID-19. The main reason why we wanted an e-classroom was to take advantage of our collaborations outside Nigeria.
Is there a story behind the collaboration between the institute and FCMB?
I will say that FCMB is a bank of the people and over the years we have seen what FCMB has done in our environment and in Nigeria as a whole, so we thought they could help us out. With that in mind, we approached FCMB, and I am so glad we did because we had such a great response. I think it is exciting that we can take this walk together with FCMB because it is bringing education closer to students.
We have been able to work together through this project and trust has been built. I hope that this will continue because we have a lot to do together for the benefit of society. We have a lot of innovations that we can bring to teaching and I hope that FCMB will continue to partner us.
How do you gauge the impact of the institute?
We have had some test runs using the e-classroom and students are really benefiting from it. In the last one week, we have had lectures there. Apart from students, it has also been beneficial to lecturers. It will be beneficial to communities directly because we do a lot of research. Most of the time, our research is just turned into papers that benefit only the academic community. But we are planning to have what we call webinars, where we can teach people about what we do here at the clinic. There are ways in which we can do such things and project them out so that people can see that this is how you should take care of your babies and so on. So, we plan to have webinars showing what we do at the clinic and bring this to the population.
I think what excites me most is that we have a hybrid classroom that offers education without borders. There are no limitations to how knowledge can be transferred. One of the top lecturers we have on our list is an emeritus professor from Sweden. She is so excited about this project because she doesn’t get to travel much. She used to do a lot of research in West Africa and now her traveling is limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. So, this is exciting to me because lecturers get satisfaction from teaching and students are exposed to international experts. The e-classroom offers a platform for students to ask questions, engage in roundtable discussions, challenge international lecturers and the lecturer can challenge them too. This is an innovation and challenge for us at the Institute of Child Health and we will transform this to opportunities.
What does the future hold for ICH?
I would say that ICH has been proactive and innovative in several ways, especially in the area training. As mentioned earlier, our master’s programme in Public Health is the first in Nigeria and first in Africa. We do child and adolescent health. So, we broke the ceiling with that. Then the master’s in Public Health Biotechnology is looking at application of genetics in health and diseases, which is another first. Again, we have this e-classroom, and its benefits are huge. I see a future that is promising because we put ourselves at the forefront of excellence. We aim to keep pushing forward and not getting slowed down by things around us.
So, I see ICH in the next five years as a great place to be. There is a lot we can do in Nigeria with innovative ideas and having partners like FCMB who can help us make them a reality makes me happy. I see ICH as a great place to be in the next five years. After the next five years, we will be able to look forward again and say we are looking at the next 10 years. I can see great things happening for us at the Institute of Child Health.
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