In the framework of the "Sin el fil: a safer city, a healthier population" project, Sin El Fil municipality and the Center for Public Health Practice (CPHP) of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut announced the signing of a cooperation agreement between the two parties, and the launching of the phase II of the Health and Development cooperation program.
The announcement was made during a major event held on Tuesday 6 February 2018 at City Hall, and attended by the Mayor Nabil kahale, AUB President Fadlo Khuri, FHS Dean Iman Nuwayhid, and a large number of health experts and actors in the social and educational fields, as well as representatives from various public and private institutions in the city.
In his opening statement, and after greeting the audience, Mayor Kahale praised the exceptional partnership with AUB, especially the FHS’ CPHP. The Mayor stressed the Municipality’s focus on this type of partnerships, which have proven to be very effective for the city’s residents. "We are dedicating our full potential for these projects and partnerships", said Kahale, adding that "the role played by municipalities and local institutions has become more important for the citizen". The Mayor welcomed the Agreement which contains important elements that will contribute towards the improvement of public health in the city, through addressing various sectors. "We have cooperated together over four years through relatively small community initiatives. Today, through this Agreement, we are shifting towards leading a significant and pioneering project that is unique of its kind in Lebanon. It reflects our vision at Sin El fil municipality, one which always was and remains human-centered ".
In his speech for the occasion, FHS Dean Iman Nuwayhid spoke about the gaps between academic institutions on one hand, and State and local organizations on the other. "Higher education institutions are usually accused of turning into an ivory tower where debates and scientific research and studies are far from reality and people’ concerns", stated Dr. Nuwayhid. "Some also refer to the term "Academic" to emphasize the separation of University and research work from community priorities, and denote the lack of realism or understanding of the political, economic and social conditions surrounding an issue in question". Refusing these allegations, Dean Nuwayhid confirmed that, through the many centers and community initiatives that are being lead, FHS and AUB in general are successfully bridging these gaps, noting that the establishment of the CPHP came under this framework.
Meanwhile, AUB President Dr. Fadlo Khuri considered this partnership as "a guarantee and major step forward for Sin El Fil residents, especially young people, and a typical University-Community Partnership in public health".
"The University aspires for its students and graduates to play an essential role in building and developing their societies in Lebanon and the Arab world", said Dr. Khuri, reaffirming the University's willingness to put its expertise, research, and technical and scientific resources to find suitable and sustainable solutions for challenges threatening people’s safety and health".
"It is not strange for AUB to participate in such initiatives. The university has already achieved a lot in Beirut through the “Neighborhood Initiative" and the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service, in addition to the memorandum of understanding that was signed between AUB and the Municipality of Beirut, which put together the city’s health vision for 2022, concurrently with the development of a clear, operational and sustainable plan". Dr. Khuri also expressed AUB’s continuous focus on the community, extending his support to this initiative while calling for its expansion to include other faculties, in line with the strategic vision of the University's social responsibility.
After the official speeches, CPHP Director Aline Germani explained through a detailed presentation the main goals of this project, its components, the different stages as well as the results obtained so far through this partnership. Additionally, Nancy Ejreiss, an official from the Local Community Development Department, also addressed the various methods through which individuals and institutions, can contribute to achieving the objectives of this project.
The Agreement includes key elements such as the need for exchange of information and experience and specialized scientific research in the field of public health and its determinants; supporting the municipal health center in activating its role to meet the community health needs; supporting school rehabilitation and the development of joint programs to reduce and prevent dangerous behaviors in schools; and activating the role of youth in development and improving society.
The launch of the second phase and the signing of the Agreement took place after the completion of a comprehensive environmental and physical assessment in 10 schools, frequented by more than two thousand and sixty pupils.
In the framework of this project and over the past four years, CPHP has developed a short-term action plan focusing on healthy schools as one of the priorities identified by the Local Community Development Department of the Municipality. The first phase of this initiative consisted of an assessment of the schools’ physical settings with the aim to develop a healthier and safer environment in these schools.
The cooperation with the Local Community Development Department in the Municipality in September 2013, under the "Learning through Community Service" program. Through this program, students apply theoretical concepts and skills learned in class to put forward public health solutions meeting the needs of hosting communities. To date, 96 AUB students participated in the implementation of 24 projects, whether directly with the Local Community Department, or through working with local associations in the city.
The data collection started on January 2017 and involved private, semi-private, and public schools. Data entry and analysis for each school was done and compiled in analytical reports which include short-term and long-term recommendations to enhance the physical environment of each school. The municipality, CPHP and the schools will join their efforts in implementing the recommendations.
In addition to the schools’ physical environment assessment, future steps within the initiative include: (i) holding awareness campaigns and training workshops for students and staff on the environmental dangers in the schools, (ii) designing programs to address risky behaviors among students, and iii) promoting community engagement activities of students by developing initiatives that would target their school neighborhoods.
As children spend a significant proportion of time in school buildings and on school grounds, it is vital that these environments are as safe as possible. Studies have shown that student achievement can be affected either positively or negatively by the school environment. Ideally, the assessment of the school physical environment shall lead to the formulation of suitable policies and protocols to ensure food protection, sanitation, safe water supply, healthy air quality, good lighting, safe playgrounds, violence prevention, and emergency response, among other issues that relate to the physical environment of schools.
Improving the wellbeing and health in the region has been at the heart of the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) vision and mission. Through its centers, FHS in the American University of Beirut (AUB) seeks to influence policies and practices in the field of public health in Lebanon and the region. Building solid partnerships with local communities is a key strategy to achieve sustainable and tangible results.