12 June 2020

COVID-19 and Higher Education: Mobilizing a Campus to Support a Community

UNESCO estimates that over 1.5 billion students in 165 countries are out of school due to COVID-19. The pandemic has forced the global academic community to explore new ways of teaching and learning, including distance and online education. This has proven challenging for both students and educators, who have to deal with the emotional, physical and economic difficulties posed by the illness while doing their part to help curb the spread of the virus.  The future is uncertain for everyone, particularly for millions of students scheduled to graduate this year who will face a world crippled economically by the pandemic. 

In the COVID-19 and higher education series, United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) talks to students, educators and researchers in different parts of the world to find out how COVID-19 has affected them and how they are coping with the changes. The series also highlights lessons learned and potential positive outcomes of the global lockdown for higher education.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to sudden and drastic changes in our everyday lives which have been accompanied by anxiety and uncertainty for people grappling with the new normal. The students and faculty of Ahfad University for Women (AUW), a UNAI member institution in Sudan serving as the UNAI Hub for Goal 5: Gender Equality, are actively responding to the pandemic using the intellectual and personnel resources on their campus.

Students from the schools of Pharmacy and Health Sciences collaborated with Dr. Mahgoub Ahmed Mahgoub from the Ahfad Centre for Science and Technology, along with community-based initiatives and local businesses, to produce much needed hand sanitizer, which has become increasingly expensive and is in short supply. Different combinations and formulas were scientifically tested to ensure efficacy and compliance with health regulations.

The resulting gel, serums and spray sanitizers were distributed for free through awareness campaigns led by AUW students, targeting local communities in the Omdurman and Khartoum North areas as well as different prisons in the states of Khartoum, Kassala and El Jazeera. These efforts have led to the creation of a volunteer initiative called ‘Eddiena Lilbalad’ (Hands for the Country) to support local healthcare projects using a scientific approach and with the participation of AUW students and professionals.

Students from the schools of Psychology and Preschool Education created a video in sign language to provide information from the government on new rules and regulations regarding protective measures against the virus. Students specializing in special education produced the video, ensuring that important public health and safety information reaches all members of society.

AUW staff have also been working to share information on how people can overcome challenges to social distancing and change behaviour. Two doctors, one from the School of Health Sciences and another from the School of Medicine, Dr. Hind Bushra and Dr. Saeed Naser Eldein, have used national and local media outlets and faith-based communities to explain the need to comply with the recommendations adopted by the World Health Organization in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

To address the psychological challenges posed by the novel coronavirus, the Ahfad Trauma Centre (ATC) has translated the information sheet shared by the WHO on how individuals can cope with virus-related stress and anxiety. The ATC has used social media to share the translated information sheet and other useful information to assist individuals during these difficult and emotionally challenging times.

You can find more information about the work of Afhad University here and learn more about the UNAI SDG Hubs here.

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