The management team of MRC Unit The Gambia (MRCG) has introduced a pioneering employee health promotion programme for all staff. This has been developed in response to the high number of reported cases at the Staff Clinic of lifestyle-induced illnesses including hypertension, type 2 diabetes and back pain, and recognises the importance of advocating behavioural change as a channel for increased wellbeing.
The MRCG’s Wellbeing Programme was launched at the main Fajara site in July 2015 as an adaptation of MRC (UK)’s ‘MRC and Me’ programme. MRCG’s Programme is structured around four themes: financial, psychological, physical and environmental wellbeing. It was rolled out subsequently at the Keneba Field Station in September 2015 and at the MRCG’s Basse Field Station in April 2016.
Leading international bodies, including the WHO have long recognised that a workplace that supports healthy lifestyles can influence the overall health and wellbeing of an organisation significantly. The ultimate aim of the MRCG’s Wellbeing Programme is to promote lifestyle change to prevent or delay the onset of preventable diseases, thereby reducing sickness-related absenteeism and improving the quality of life. Another important objective of this initiative is to boost staff morale and engagement, which will no doubt result in better team relationships, performance, better staff recruitment and retention. Through talks on health issues, financial issues and the promotion of physical activities, it is believed that employees will be apt to take a more holistic approach to their own health – both physical and mental.
The Wellbeing Programme is being driven by a steering committee which is co-managed by Joan Vives Tomas, Director of Operations; Sarah Dufie Sarpong, Head of Safety, Health and Environment and Kalilu Dibba, Senior Human Resources Advisor. The steering committee is comprised of individuals from various departments/sections across The Unit including the MRCG Workers’ Union. Activities at the field sites are coordinated by the local sports and social committees. In addition, various health and wellbeing initiatives are being led by The Unit’s Wellbeing Champions – individuals who have a particular interest in an activity and who are keen to support other staff members by leading these activities.
Since the launch almost a year ago, the committee has introduced free yoga lessons, free gym membership, overseen the building of a new basketball court, installation of table tennis tables and approved the upgrading of the existing football pitch and volleyball court. There have also been talks on hypertension, cervical cancer, healthy eating and back pain. In December 2015, the committee organised a very popular Unit-wide ‘Family Fun Day’. The day included various sporting activities for staff members and their families, which attracted over 500 participants. All of these initiatives have been extremely well received by staff, and feedback indicates that the Wellbeing Programme has been one of the best ‘preventive medicine’ initiatives to have been introduced by The Unit.
While it is difficult at this stage to highlight any appreciable or evidence-based decline in the number of staff presenting at the Clinic with diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, Dr Chibuike Nnadozie Okpara (Staff Doctor) reports that he has seen significantly fewer staff with Low Back Pain (LBP) at the MRCG’s Fajara Field Station. According to him, before the introduction of the Wellbeing Programme, LBP was one of the most common complaints amongst staff members, accounting for about 10% of clinic visits. Presently, complaints of LBP now account for less than 5% of all clinic visits, a good indicator and positive reflection of the Wellbeing advocacy work. There has also been a tremendous increase in the knowledge and practice of healthy lifestyle behaviours amongst staff members. Indeed, behavioural change has been the greatest achievement of the Wellbeing initiative so far; according to Dr Okpara. There has been a marked increase in the number of physically active staff, who are now engaging in a wide range of activities including cycling, running, basketball, volleyball and football, thanks to the additional push that has been provided by the Wellbeing Programme.
Going forward, the Wellbeing committee will continue to promote existing activities through the respective Champions and introduce new initiatives such as talks on managing personal finance; a staff abroad support scheme and periodic health examinations for staff. There are also plans to organise mini programmes to mark the international days for breast cancer, diabetes, blood donation and others.
With the sustained enthusiasm of both staff and management, there are likely to be palpable results in terms of numbers presenting at the Staff Clinic with preventable illnesses. The committee, in collaboration with the Staff Doctor (who is a member of the committee), will continue to collect data on the benefits of having a successful Wellbeing Programme and share this information with staff.
For more information, please contact the Wellbeing committee on firstname.lastname@example.org