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Friday, May 20, 2022

The last conversation with DMB Jagne, the Father of Public Health in The Gambia

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By Sarja Jarjusey

One might wonder what I must have learned or heard from the Father of Public Health in The Gambia, DMB Jagne, that others have not. Well, if that is the case, then shortly, you will either agree with me and thank me later, or you may even become confused, which is not my intention.

DMB Jagne was an inspirational figure and a mentor to many. He was like an irreplaceable figure that you must either see or hear about. Because DMB is Public Health and Public Health is DMB, in the sense that anybody that has learned anything about Public Health in The Gambia must have been taught, if not by DMB Jagne himself but one of his disciples.

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It couldn’t have come at a better time than now when the world is seriously threatened with emerging and re-emerging disease. The demand for Public Health personnel becomes more visible than ever. Now, I don’t have to tell people what’s in Public Health because COVID-19 makes everyone know Public Health, even people that are not in the health field appreciate it more.

However, this doesn’t mean that Public Health is always interested in diseases, but it is also interested in the healthy population and how to make them never to have disease.

Progressively, for a difference to be different, it has to make a difference. Every one of us should be asking how much difference they have made in ensuring that they make their people healthier? If you can answer without a crinkum-crankum, then you are a champion. If you struggle to answer that, then you need to adjust.

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The fulcrum of a better Public Health practitioner lies in the individual’s training. This has again, made Mr Jagne a man of virtue in 1968, which he insisted that: to be enrolled in the School of Public Health, you must have 5 credits at not more than two sittings in the same exams. Candidates with less than 5 credits were encouraged to re-sit relevant GCE Ordinary Level subjects before the last year of the 3 years training program.

Quality was his guiding beacon. An impeccably dressed and well-mannered father-figure said to his students, “the attire proclaims the person.” Mr Jagne never accepted his students to be shabbily dressed or poorly mannered. No wonder you see Public Health Officers across the country looking always smart. This was the genesis. The foundation was ever strong.

Fast forward, old age came, but his desire to see a flourishing Public Health cadre was always his top priority. He took it upon himself to write a book about the “History of Public Health” but little did he know that he will not live to complete the work. Just like when an Imam or Pastor is on a pulpit – any word that comes out of his mouth is sacrosanct, so that was how the last moments of DMB Jagne were.

At his residence in Fajara, a young me was privileged enough to take a picture with such an iconic figure, and he received his COVID-19 vaccine on the same day. He offered us sumptuous food that I can still talk about without getting bored. You don’t need to spend a whole day to know someone blessed with wit and wisdom.

Mr Jagne was an encyclopedia of knowledge. He frowned at his dissatisfaction with how the training is done at the School of Public Health. The introduction of a private class was never welcoming news for him and I can remember vividly from our conversation. He told me he will find time to meet the Minister of Higher Education to discuss paramount issues about the training of fully-fledged “Bodofel” as many may call it in those days.

Now, after his demise, a story on several newspapers on the plan of the Ministry of Higher Education to relocate the School of Public Health to Farafenni was unwelcoming news to me and many other disciples even if they don’t express it loudly.

What must be the need for sending School of Public Health into exile? Will it not be simpler to incorporate it in the School of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, just like how they intend to do so for the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Banjul?

For a difference to be different, it has to make a difference. If there cannot be any meaningful difference, it cannot be considered different. The School of Public Health in Brikama remains the only place where we can feel and hear Mr Jagne. He singly built everything and served as an expert. Part of which most of his disciples fancied him was teaching without looking at a book. What I was expecting to hear was to name the library of the School of Public Health in courtesy of Mr Jagne or to even build a circle for him, just like how many institutions will do for their fallen heroes.

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