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Open Access Research article

Training Trainers in health and human rights: Implementing curriculum change in South African health sciences institutions

Elena G Ewert1, Laurel Baldwin-Ragaven23 and Leslie London3*

Author Affiliations

1 Denver Health Residency in Emergency Medicine, MC #0108 777 Bannock St, Denver, Colorado 80206, USA

2 Asylum Hill Family Practice Center, 99 Woodland Street, Hartford, Connecticut 06105, USA

3 School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Falmouth Building, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Observatory, 7925, South Africa

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BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:47  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-47

Published: 25 July 2011

Abstract

Background

The complicity of the South African health sector in apartheid and the international relevance of human rights as a professional obligation prompted moves to include human rights competencies in the curricula of health professionals in South Africa. A Train-the-Trainers course in Health and Human Rights was established in 1998 to equip faculty members from health sciences institutions nationwide with the necessary skills, attitudes and knowledge to teach human rights to their students. This study followed up participants to determine the extent of curriculum implementation, support needed as well as barriers encountered in integrating human rights into health sciences teaching and learning.

Methods

A survey including both quantitative and qualitative components was distributed in 2007 to past course participants from 1998-2006 via telephone, fax and electronic communication.

Results

Out of 162 past participants, 46 (28%) completed the survey, the majority of whom were still employed in academic settings (67%). Twenty-two respondents (48%) implemented a total of 33 formal human rights courses into the curricula at their institutions. Respondents were nine times more likely (relative risk 9.26; 95% CI 5.14-16.66) to implement human rights education after completing the training. Seventy-two extracurricular activities were offered by 21 respondents, many of whom had successfully implemented formal curricula. Enabling factors for implementation included: prior teaching experience in human rights, general institutional support and the presence of allies - most commonly coworkers as well as deans. Frequently cited barriers to implementation included: budget restrictions, time constraints and perceived apathy of colleagues or students. Overall, respondents noted personal enrichment and optimism in teaching human rights.

Conclusion

This Train-the-Trainer course provides the historical context, educational tools, and collective motivation to incorporate human rights educational initiatives at health sciences institutions. Increased implementation of human rights instruction, both formally and extracurricularly, has demonstrated the training's significance not only within academic institutions but more broadly across the health sector. Coworkers are vital allies in teaching human rights to health sciences students, helping to alleviate institutional barriers. Training fellow staff members and those in key leadership roles is noted as vital to the sustainability of human rights education.