By Yasir Arafat, Theme C Student Liaison (MSc in Nutrition for Global Health Candidate)
Yasir Arafat is the new MARCH Centre Theme C student liaison. In this blog Yasir tells us about his journey from medical school to child and maternal health programs and his current experience at LSHTM.
My first encounter with public health happened when I was at medical school. As a medical student, it was thought-provoking for me to learn about the multiple dimensions of health and the importance of comprehensive actions towards improved health outcomes in a community. Rather than being a specialist clinician providing advanced clinical services in specialized hospitals, I chose to be a public health professional to serve the marginalized population, particularly the women and children in need of access to basic health and nutrition care.
I believe that was my first move towards the objective I started building up: achieving measurable results and impact on lives of marginalised groups and, in the process, becoming a public health leader. When I started my career with the Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) in early 2007, in refugee camps in remote areas of South-East Bangladesh, alongside the basic medical care that we provided to mothers and children at MSF clinics, I also started learning about community outreach works for screening and management of malnutrition in children under 5 years of age. There, I had first-hand opportunity to learn how these services can be integrated with other essential child health interventions, such as immunizations and antenatal/postnatal check-ups for women in the communities, to achieve coverage.
At the very beginning of my journey in the field, I realized that optimum health and nutrition for vulnerable women and children won’t be achieved without first ensuring social protection, food, water, sanitation and hygiene. This realization inspired me to work with relevant partners to successfully link those households with the services they required.
As result of my determined nature and focus on initiatives targeting the broader community and understanding of comprehensive, inclusive service for every children and women, I became the manager of MSF’s program at the camp. It was then, that I realised that I wanted to develop my career as a public health program manager. Managing public health programs for me was not only about delivering effective maternal and child health and nutrition interventions at the community level, but also giving due consideration to various social and cultural perspectives of health and disease within these communities.
The skills I have acquired while studying at the James P Grant School of Public Health, back in 2009, and the experience I gained while working with BRAC and Save the Children International as Program Manager in South Asian and African communities, between 2010 and 2017, provided me a solid upbringing and understanding of public health programming in developing countries.
Looking back at my experience in the field, I have always recognized that I cannot succeed without the support of committed team members, common goals and recognition of every single contribution. I have applied the same principle whilst providing life-saving care to children with diarrhoea, pneumonia, and malnutrition; towards improving infant and young child feeding practices for nutritionally vulnerable children and infants; and when developing targeted behaviour change interventions for improving access to food and diversified diet in pregnancy.
Prior to my arrival at LSHTM in September 2017, I had the opportunity to be an active part of working groups and advocacy networks contributing to the development of plans of action for improving maternal and child nutrition, as a Senior Nutrition Program Manager in Bangladesh. By generating evidence about severe acute malnutrition in infants under the age of six months, my work with these networks turned the national attention towards the inclusion of this group in community-based malnutrition programs.
Currently, as a MSc candidate in Nutrition for Global Health at LSHTM, I have gained the best opportunity to learn further, amongst an international network with diverse expertise. My MSc has been amazing, providing me not only more knowledge on nutrition and global health but also giving me the unique opportunity to learn from others’ experiences. As a MARCH Centre student liaison, I look forward to working with you all in creating a solid platform for all students to share and learn about new research, policies, challenges in newborn’s, children’s and women’s access to basic health and nutrition care.