This week’s Alumni Profile features, Dr. Denis Mali, who graduated from the School in 2014 with an MSc in Public Health by Distance Learning, specializing in Health Services Management. Denis now works as the Program Management Specialist with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in South Sudan.
Why did you choose to study at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine? The School is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, training and producing highly qualified public health professionals. I wanted to be equal to the global public health challenge that now faces most poor African countries. The supplemental training and award of a Diploma in Tropical Medicine even inspired me more as this was added knowledge for me, especially working in the tropical regions of Africa.
What challenges did you face while studying at the School and how did you overcome them? I found that it was very difficult to study and work at the same time, especially when you work in a post conflict country where there is little to no access to a library, electricity and the Internet. I am grateful to my family, who allowed me to change my living room into a study. I had to travel frequently from South Sudan back to Uganda to have academic discussions with my colleagues who worked in Kampala and also studied at the School. While in Uganda, I would download the course contents from the reliable internet there. As a result, I had no free time as all of it was devoted to covering the course materials. Nonetheless, the study modules offered by the School were well organised, allowing myself to be organised upfront. The webinars helped me a great deal since they were recorded. Although I was unable to join the live discussion with other students, I was still able to log on to the recorded webinars to follow the discussions at a later time at my convenience.
How has your degree from the School helped you in your career? Studying at the School offered me the opportunity to meet several friends. Likewise, I also met really great and inspiring people along the way. I am particularly honoured to have met and completed a course directed by Professor Peter Piot as he mentored, encouraged and guided me. My degree has broadened my understanding of the ever expanding global health needs and the dwindling resources available to manage them. Additionally, it has enabled my work with USAID South Sudan where I provide technical, programmatic and administrative management of the USAID/South Sudan’s HIV/AIDS portfolio in a complex and challenging environment. The line between development and humanitarian assistance in South Sudan is thin. Currently, my work entails setting up systems to expand antiretroviral treatment in South Sudan with assistance from the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The modules on HIV/AIDS, health economics and globalisation have helped me immensely in organising my thoughts on the most pragmatic and sustainable approaches to expand HIV treatment as prevention and combat the HIV epidemic in the country.
Were the relationships formed during your time at the School useful? I have made great connections with my colleagues with whom we have studied together. These connections are even stronger today, as we reach out to each other for support with work related issues. My friends have really been great and charming and getting together is usually a happy moment when all of us unwind from our work environment.
What has been your greatest achievement so far in your career? I am proud to have designed a program that now provides life saving antiretroviral therapy to women living in remote locations where the basic health infrastructure has been completely razed down by war. My greatest achievement has been involving women in designing and managing their water sanitation and hygiene infrastructure as well as being able to prevent sexual violence and rape to women and girls who are displaced by war and are living in internally displaced people’s camps and in UN protection of civilian camps in South Sudan. In these camps, women are most vulnerable to rape and sexual violence when they go out to fetch water or visit the toilet.
What would you like to go on to achieve? I would like to go back to school and understand how communities can build resilient public health structures in emergencies. Emergencies in Africa today come in various forms, from conflict to epidemics, as we have seen the most recent one of Ebola. When systems for providing critical health services are lacking at the grass-roots, the impacts of these emergencies are likely to be higher and may take longer to contain. A resilient community system is one platform that could help us today to expand HIV treatment in remote conflict affected areas of South Sudan.
Any advice for current students? There are so many distractions in life. Once you set your goals, no matter how ambitious they are, work towards it every single day of your life by adapting to everyday situations/context.
I am very satisfied with the decision I took to study at the School. This was one of the most expensive investments I made. It costs so much financially and the social implications are huge to friends and family, but the reward is incomparable to any. The knowledge and skills I gained have set me up against the challenges of my career. Therefore, I feel I am always prepared for it. I encourage current students and those planning to join, to never give up and keep pushing on.
Photo credit: Dr. Denis Mali providing a Polio vaccine to a child in Juba. These women attend a USAID supported clinic.