22 December 2011

University of Copenhagen and Danish Red Cross team up

Copenhagen School of Global Health has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Danish Red Cross. It is the first time that the aid agency includes a university as permanent partner and the collaboration will make it easier for the two organisations to benefit from each other's capacities.

The University of Copenhagen will work as consultant advisor for Danish Red Cross, students and researchers at the University will gain access to internships, and university teaching will benefit from real-life cases and Red Cross-staff with many years of field experience.

"We need good techniques and an evidence based approach in order to improve the quality of our work, as well as become more cost-effective" says Jytte Roswall from Danish Red Cross about the Memorandum of Understanding, which the aid organisation has just signed with University of Copenhagen. There are several pilot projects behind the 15 pages memorandum, and this is why Jytte Rosswall has clear expectations about how the collaboration will benefit both parties.

As International Health Advisor with a background in public health it is Jytte Roswall's job to support the delegates and other staff members drive health programs in the 20 countries of cooperation of the organisation. She gives advice on everything concerning the implementation of Danish Red Cross' field based health work and she sees plenty of opportunities in the corporation with University of Copenhagen:

"We are going to look at how we currently work and where we can improve. In this way we can better utilize our resources and increase the quality of health programmes. Furthermore, it will help us address the new health challenges we are facing today" Jytte Roswall emphasises.

Consultant advisors for Danish Red Cross

One of the pilot projects has been a consultancy task in Malawi and Cambodia where two of University of Copenhagen's researchers, postdoc Thilde Rheinländer and external lecturer and engineer Henrik Bregnhøj examined and evaluated the organisation and use of volunteers in Danish Red Cross sanitation and hygiene initiatives. 

The majority of the work by Danish Red Cross is based on volunteer assistance from locals, and it was time to examine, whether this way of working brings the expected results and if employees and volunteer workers have the necessary training and capacities. Health promotion is a discipline that has developed a lot during the 8-12 years Danish Red Cross has been running sanitation projects in Malawi and Cambodia. With the newest knowledge at hand and an outsider perspective the two researchers made suggestions to how current Red Cross practices could be adjusted.

"When doing health promotion it is important to adjust it to the group you wish to reach. Very often planners focus too much on the message and forget who they are talking to. As a receiver you need personal incitement to change health behavior and this motivation is seldom rational."

Child in Malawi washing hands.
Photo: Thilde Rheinländer

"In contrast to what campaign planners tend to believe, motivation is often not attached to knowledge about health. Instead it is formed by social and cultural conditions and is therefore different depending on where and how we live, "explains Thilde Rheinländer.

Thilde Rheinländer holds a PhD in Public Health with a focus on health and sanitation promotion in low and middle-income countries and in Cambodia and Malawi it was among other things the communication about sanitation and hygiene she and colleague Henrik Bregnhøj noticed:

"The message about why hand washing and proper toilets are important mainly focused on the ‘health argument': If you do not use a toilet you will become ill." But many studies have shown that other arguments are better at motivating families to establish good sanitation facilities. For instance that it is troublesome and dangerous to go out at night or that nice toilets give a good impression when a family has visitors," says Henrik Bregnhøj.

The consultancy task was to focus on the "software" e.g. knowledge and training, but the two consultants also took a closer look at the need to update the technical "hardware". Here Thilde Rheinländer and Henrik Bregnhøj found examples of very innovative technical solutions invented by the local rural population together with the volunteer staff, for instance a way to establish simple hand washing facilities close to toilets and easy methods to build solid latrines. These experiences can now be conveyed to other Danish Red Cross projects.    

Renewed, enforced internship programme

The consultancy agreement is only one out of five pillars in the memorandum of understanding. One of the other five is teaching and the collaboration has already been initiated. 

On 1 -4 November a team from University of Copenhagen was teaching about 30
Red Cross teaches Shelter and Settlements in Disasters at the Master of Disaster Management programme. Photo: Palle Horn, Haiti

international and Danish delegates as part of Danish Red Cross' health training, and according to Jytte Roswall, the participants were happy to receive the newest knowledge. The participants were among other issues updated on chronic diseases, environmental health and new patterns of diseases in low income countries. Vice versa several of the employees at Danish Red Cross are teaching at University of Copenhagen's programmes Master of International Health and Master of Disaster Management.

With the new MoU, Jytte Roswall expects there to be even more knowledge sharing, and she has especially high expectations to the renewed and enforced internship programme. Danish Red Cross now offers two kinds of internships for students of either 6 weeks or 6 months duration.

"We very often face complex problems but lack the necessary knowledge to solve them. In these cases a student with an interest in our working area and time to work in-depth could make a great difference" says Jytte Roswall and encourages interested students to look into the programme.

Danish Red Cross and the University of Copenhagen collaborate on five areas within global health:

  • Technical Assistance
  • Education and Training
  • Internships
  • Common operational research
  • PR and Communication


The internships will be announced on the University of Copenhagen website's -  stay updated on Opportunities at Copenhagen School of Global Health.