Capacity Strengthening at Makerere University

Written by: The DHS Program

04 Nov, 2015

Undergraduate students attentively listen to the presentation on The DHS Program.

By Betty Kwagala

Makerere University is one of the oldest Universities in Africa. Over the past 4 years, four teams of DHS Fellows (12 Fellows in all) have been selected from Makerere. Fellows have been drawn from School of Statistics and Planning, College of Business and Management Sciences and School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences. The two schools are closely related and work together in various ways including training, supervision of students’ research and faculty research in public health, population and reproductive health. DHS data are vital in several graduate and postgraduate courses taught in these two schools and a considerable number of faculty members also engage in research involving further DHS data analyses. The two schools had a second team of DHS Fellows this year.

I am among the faculty members at the School of Statistics and Planning of Makerere University that use DHS datasets for research. I had previously analysed DHS data but wanted to learn more about DHS data and be better equipped to use it in teaching and mentoring students. Therefore together with other two colleagues Ms. Olivia Nankinga and Dr. Cyprian Misinde in the Department of Population Studies, we applied for and were selected to participate in the 2015 DHS Fellows program.  During the program, I learned a lot ranging from sampling procedures, understanding complex indicators in DHS reports to correct analysis of DHS data.  My practical knowledge of Stata improved significantly.  I was impressed by the high quality of facilitation. Approaches used were adult sensitive, providing optimum opportunity for learning.  I appreciated the approach of learning by doing and emphasis on teamwork. The facilitators were highly knowledgeable, professional, yet empathetic and patient with the participants. The south-south co-facilitation of the workshop was excellent. Resources provided as part of the program are very useful.

Cyprian Misinde facilitating an undergraduate training session

Cyprian Misinde facilitating an undergraduate training session.

One of the objectives of the DHS Fellows Program is to increase the capacity to use DHS data in Fellows’ home universities through capacity-building activities implemented by the Fellows.  At the School of Statistics and Planning, few members of the School research teams were knowledgeable about proper analysis of DHS data or the rationale for the recommended procedures for analysis. Consequently, many staff members could not guide students appropriately. DHS data are often used inappropriately by staff and students.  To fill these gaps, working together with Ms. Nankinga and Dr. Misinde we implemented several activities that were designed to improve the capacity to use DHS data in the School.

For example, we held a training workshop titled “Appropriate use of DHS/AIS data for graduate and undergraduate students in the School of statistics and Planning 2014-2015 academic year” on 21st to 22nd August for graduate students at the School of Statistics and Planning. All masters programs were represented namely Masters in Statistics, Quantitative Economics, Population and Reproductive Health and Demography. The students are in the process of developing proposals for their master’s dissertations.  On average, thirty seven students attended the training each day.

Betty Kwagala facilitating a session.

Betty Kwagala facilitating a session.

To address the data need among undergraduates, we also conducted a half-day training that involved 44 third year students of pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Population Studies. They are expected to conduct research and write a dissertation as a partial fulfillment of the program requirements in the final year. Students were inquisitive and remained attentive throughout the sessions.

In addition, as part of our supervisory role, we are ensuring that students register to use the datasets, and that their proposals/dissertations take into account important elements of DHS data analysis (82 students have been trained and 20 supervised). We have integrated DHS content in our research methods courses. Two of the Fellows in the second team, Dr. Simon Kasasa and Ms. Allen Kabagenyi, conducted the first orientation session for Biostatistics students last month at the School of Public Health, in conjunction with Prof.  Nazarius Mbona Tumwesigye and Prof. Robert Wamala.

Some of the key opportunities for the department and the school include keen interest and strong teamwork among faculty and the fact that the faculty and students were already using the datasets. Our research team has prepared an additional manuscript based on the UDHS (under review). We hope to collaborate more on DHS based research at school and university levels and possibly with our fellow alumni regionally.  The enthusiasm and interest of the students and their associations in proper analysis of DHS data is an important opportunity.  The training process has however been challenged by strikes of staff and students at the university and limited access to computers on the part of students.

Personally, I learned beyond my expectations and had a lot of fun as well. I highly recommend the Fellows program particularly for population, health and development researchers and lecturers for the benefit of our students, clients and careers.


Betty KwagalaBetty Kwagala is a Senior Lecturer at Makerere University School of Statistics and Planning, Department of Population Studies. Prior to lecturing, she was a research fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research. She now combines lecturing and research using mixed methods. She extensively uses DHS reports as reference materials for demographic and health statistics and a guide to designing survey questionnaires and DHS datasets for research. Her publications are mainly focused on gender relations, reproductive health, and health in general. Publications based on DHS data address gender based violence, contraception, and sexually transmitted infections. She was a 2015 DHS fellow.

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Anthropometry measurement (height and weight) is a core component of DHS surveys that is used to generate indicators on nutritional status. The Biomarker Questionnaire now includes questions on clothing and hairstyle interference on measurements for both women and children for improved interpretation.