60 seconds with Benjamin Momo Kadia

October is Black History Month in the UK, an annual observance that celebrates and reflects on Black history, arts and culture, as well as recognising the achievements and roles of Black people in shaping history. LSHTM is committed to fostering a supportive, enabling and inclusive environment, where all individuals are treated with dignity and respect, and where there is equality of opportunity for all regardless of characteristics or background.

Dr Benjamin Momo Kadia (MSc Public Health for Development, 2019) works as a Clinical Research Associate at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM). To celebrate Black History Month, we asked him about his role at LSTM, what this month means to him, and some quick fire questions!

What is your role and what does it involve?

I was appointed as Clinical Research Associate at LSTM to provide clinical, research and organisational support to the Gut Health Workstream of the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Against Stunting Hub. Through extended on-site visits and remote assistance, I provide support in all aspects of the Workstream’s observational cohort and interventional studies in Senegal, India and Indonesia. I also have teaching and training responsibilities within the Department of Clinical Sciences of LSTM.

Where are you based?

Douala, Cameroon.

How long have you worked there (and what was your previous job)?

I started my role in October 2020, I am a physician general practitioner with four years of experience in delivering general medical services in rural Cameroon and in February 2020, I graduated with an MSc in Public Health for Development from LSHTM. After the MSc, I volunteered as Clinical Research Physician for diverse organisations including the Cameroon Society for Epidemiology and the Health Education and Research Organisation (HERO) in Cameroon. In addition, I assisted as a data work volunteer for LSHTM’s global database on public health and social measures against the COVID-19 pandemic. I also pursued independent research projects focusing on clinical and epidemiological aspects of tropical and infectious diseases.

What is a typical day for you?

Ordinarily, my day starts with jogging or walking to keep me fit. Then I usually have a meeting with my supervisor who leads the Gut Health Workstream of the Action Against Stunting Hub. During the meeting we set targets and update each other on the progress of the Gut Health Workstream, the Gut Health Research Group, the in-country teams in Senegal, Indonesia and India, and importantly, our involvement in projects of the Stunting Hub including interdisciplinary research. Occasionally, we also discuss another on-going project in Kenya as the delivery of this project informs some of our activities in the Gut Health Workstream. After the meeting, I engage in diverse virtual programmes including online training and webinars on gut health and related topics. I usually have breakfast by late morning, after which I focus on diverse tasks related to my role at LSTM. Broadly speaking, these tasks are geared towards overviewing and delivering the Gut Health Workstream and enhancing the research and teaching capacities of LSTM’s Department of Clinical Sciences.

Tell us about a project you are currently working on?

I am currently engaged in a prospective randomised trial assessing the effect of a synbiotic intervention from birth to age six months on linear growth and gut health biomarkers among infants in Senegal.

What three words would you use to describe your role?

Gastroenterology-Research-Collaboration.

What is your favourite thing about working there?

On a daily basis, I interact with new experts from diverse backgrounds and this tremendously expands my network and career opportunities.

What is your proudest career achievement?

Setting up a Continuing Medical Education Programme in all the hospitals where I practised medicine in Cameroon. I consider it a fundamental role of every clinician to create an environment that enhances knowledge sharing and evidence-based medicine among health personnel, especially in resource-limited settings.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Celebrating the culture, history and achievements of the black community reaffirms our commitment to foster justice and equity worldwide.

What three words would you use to describe Black History Month?

Recognition-Enlightenment-Inspiration.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My greatest inspiration and source of motivation is the people who believe in me. These people include family, friends, work colleagues, my patients etc. The list is not exhaustive. It is thanks to these people that I have kept my dreams alive and achieved every milestone in my career.

Who is someone making Black History today?

My little sister. To me, she has been a heroine ever since Cameroon started experiencing a series of crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic. During these uncertain times, this young woman has been merging her skills in public health and social entrepreneurship to empower women and vulnerable subgroups like internally displaced people. She has received diverse awards and recognitions for her work and recently got a Chevening Scholarship to study for an MSc in Disaster Management and Sustainable Development at Northumbria University in the UK.

“When I’m not working I am…”

Watching TV, listening to music or meeting up with friends.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I admired three main professions as I grew up; journalist, lawyer and then a teacher.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Calm-Visionary-Perseverant.

What is your favourite book?

The Gods Are Not to Blame by Ola Rotimi.

What is your most treasured possession?

My siblings. They fully understand who I am and my struggles and they have played a key role in getting me where I am.

What is your favourite joke?

The interrupting cow.

What is your favourite place?

Meiganga, a remote rural area in the Adamawa region of Cameroon. The area is full of greenery and beautiful sceneries. I feel at peace and in perfect harmony with nature when I visit this place. Meiganga really inspires my creativity and it is a great place for holidays for those who like forest walks.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I hate breakfast.

If you are an alumnus and would like to be highlighted in Black History Month, please email alumni@lshtm.ac.uk.

Mobile health system used to test school eye health education package

Photograph: Peek Vision

New peer-reviewed research published in eClinicalMedicine shows how the Peek Vision school eye health system can help service providers evaluate new ways of educating children and their parents about eye health.

Peek Vision’s suite of smartphone and software solutions, designed to improve healthcare delivery, developed from an ICEH research study started in 2011.

A team of researchers in Hyderabad, India, used Peek technology to develop and test an educational package intended to improve the proportion of children wearing glasses. 

They used a prototype of the Peek school eye health system to gather and analyse data on the study and to generate images and voice messages encouraging parents to support their children in wearing glasses.  In total, 7432 children were screened across 50 government schools in Hyderabad, India.  Around half received the education package and half did not; following screening, those who required glasses were provided with them.

After 3-4 months, the researchers observed whether children who had been provided with glasses were still using them, and the results were compared to the children who had not received the education package.

Perhaps surprisingly, the results showed little difference between the children who received the educational package and those who did not – in both cases, just over half of them were still using their glasses 3-4 months after they were provided. 

“There are many reasons why children do not wear spectacles, including concerns by parents that spectacles will have no benefit, weaken their child’s eyes or are stigmatising,” says the study’s lead author Dr Priya Morjaria, Assistant Professor at the International Centre for Eye Health and Head of Global Programme Development for Peek Vision.  

“While it’s clear that better education will support better eye health if carefully delivered, this study suggests that effective educational interventions need to be carefully assessed and adapted to local circumstances before being widely rolled out.”

Because the trial used the Peek school eye health system, the eye health screening, treatment and compliance with treatment were all visible in real-time.  This made the effect of the intervention considerably quicker and easier to evaluate compared to conventional paper-based (or mixed paper and electronic) systems.  Since the trial took place in 2017, the Peek eye health system has been refined further and is currently being used in multiple programmes in Africa and Asia.

“An advantage of using the Peek eye health system is that it allows eye health programmes to analyse and report on data as they are collected,” she adds.  “This means that interventions can be modified or adjusted, such as altering the content or frequency of voice message, and the impact monitored in real time.”

The researchers were based at the International Centre for Eye Health (ICEH) at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the Indian Institute of Public Health, Pushpagiri Vitreo Retina Institute and Peek Vision.  

The research was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the terms of USAID/PGRD Contract Agreement No Contract No. PGRD-15-0003-006. The contents do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.  The study was also funded by Standard Chartered Seeing is Believing Innovation Fund and the Vision Impact Institute.

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COVID-19 Alumni Stories: Antonio Hegar

Antonio Hegar (MSc Public Health, Environmental Stream, 2013) works as an Epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health (MoH), in Belize. In this blog, he describes how COVID-19 has affected his work and affected his outlook.

COVID-19 has forced me to not only put all my skills and training in public health to the test, but to simultaneously learn and grow in every conceivable way as our team and I at the MoH attempt to keep up with all the latest updates on the nature, behaviour, and responses to the outbreak around the world.

“I have been based at headquarters where my responsibilities primarily involve analysing all manner of data on COVID-19 in Belize with respect to morbidity and mortality, as well as a bit of modelling to get a sense of possible scenarios down the road. These findings are then passed on to clinicians, contact tracers, and others on the frontline.

“Given our resource scarce setting, COVID-19 has essentially been an all-consuming daily responsibility on my part. In practical terms this has meant the partial side lining of other infectious disease programmes and data collection, although this has improved somewhat of late. On a positive note, COVID-19 has also strengthened partnerships between various departments, government ministries, and paved the way for increased funding from various international health agencies.

Perhaps more than any single course or analytical technique, my time at LSHTM prepared me to be forever questioning and learning. Regarding the latter point, the school environment instilled in me a desire to seek out knowledge in even the most unlikely of places, and from people of all backgrounds in health and non-health related fields, as this is often where one finds solutions to the tough questions.

I think it would be a fantastic idea for all alumni to share their experiences – technical, medical, and humanitarian – on the alumni website for mutual support and learning.”

If you are an alumnus and would like to share your COVID-19 story, please click here to find out more.

Information about how you can support, promote and share LSHTM’s COVID-19 Response work is available here.

Major new research programme could fast-track health service improvement in low and middle-income countries

Photograph: Rolex / Joan Bardeletti

A partnership including The International Centre for Eye Health (ICEH) and Peek Vision have been awarded a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award in Science, which will be used for a series of research projects with the potential to redefine how health services can be optimised.

The Collaborative Awards allow independent research groups to work together on projects where they can collectively amplify their skills for a common goal. Partnering with the Ministry of Health Kenya and the University of Botswana, the team have been awarded £3.8m to expand on Peek Vision’s smartphone-based eye health systems, which allow eye health programmes in low- and middle-income countries to improve access to their services. 

“The problem with gathering evidence to help eye service delivery is that the research cycle is so long, resulting in the evidence not always translating into practice,” says Professor Andrew Bastawrous, lead investigator at ICEH. “For randomised controlled trials it can be many years. This grant will help us to find ways to radically improve that for eye health and other areas.”

Eye health services using Peek can screen for eye health conditions by using a smartphone app to conduct vision checks and then track patients through the health system. The data can be accessed in real-time, allowing them to monitor the performance of services and appropriately respond to changes in their programmes.

The award will build on this existing methodology and software to enable users to test multiple improvements to their current screening and referral programmes at the same time. It will be possible to test several factors affecting the effectiveness of a service, for example the frequency or content of text alerts, or which solutions to local challenges (e.g. type of transport to treatment) work best.

By running several of these tests in rapid sequence or in parallel, the results could mean that successful, evidence-based changes to the health service can be implemented immediately. Programme implementers will be able to test their hypotheses in a real-world, uncontrolled setting, without the need for comprehensive research or statistical know-how.

“This project is a stellar example of how mobile health can be utilised in very simple ways to great effect,” Says Professor Josip Car, Director, Centre for Population Health Sciences and Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Digital Health and Health Education at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. “The learnings from this study could have far-reaching consequences, not only in eyecare, but for the improvement of any complex health system. By using a process where hypotheses can be tested in quick succession or in parallel, and the results implemented immediately, the team are showing us how mHealth can truly be the future of healthcare, deeply integrated into its delivery, and providing huge benefit for patients worldwide.”

The award, for implementation within Kenya and Botswana over 5 years, will aim to improve eye health within the target countries, while assessing this new trial framework.

“One third of the planet lacks access to basic eye care, with eighty percent of blindness and vision impairment being due to conditions we can effectively treat today with interventions such as glasses and cataract surgery,” Prof Bastawrous continues. “The vast majority of these people are in lower and middle-income countries. In eye health we have already delivered some fantastic innovations, now we need to focus on innovating delivery. This award is a fantastic opportunity to work further with our partners and provide a radical new way to assess eye health interventions, for the benefit of people and countries who need it most.”

ICEH would like to thank The Wellcome Trust and National Institute for Health Research (using Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding) for funding the award.

For more information please contact iceh@lshtm.ac.uk

Previous projects:

Smartphone-based screening for visual impairment in Kenyan school children

Implementing a School Vision Screening Program in Botswana Using Smartphone Technology

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60 seconds with Susan Kasedde

October is Black History Month in the UK, an annual observance that celebrates and reflects on Black history, arts and culture, as well as recognising the achievements and roles of Black people in shaping history. LSHTM is committed to fostering a supportive, enabling and inclusive environment, where all individuals are treated with dignity and respect, and where there is equality of opportunity for all regardless of characteristics or background.

Susan Kasedde (Doctor of Public Health, 2008) works as the UNAIDS Country Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo. To celebrate Black History Month, we asked her about her role and projects, what black history month means to her and some quick fire questions!

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am working currently as the UNAIDS Country Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I am responsible for leading and coordinating the UN Joint Programme Response to HIV in the country. My role is to ensure effective engagement with the government, civil society, private sector, academia, and international partners. This means the national HIV response and partners benefit from the best technical and financial assistance and guidance available from the UN system to facilitate a strategic, effective response to HIV with sustainable impact in the country. Therefore, I work closely with a technical team of specialists from multiple agencies of the UN system and with all the partners to ensure that I can advocate, mobilise and guide effectively based on a broad understanding of needs, opportunities and available resources.

The DRC is a large country of close to 100 million people with multiple health and development challenges as well as significant valuable experiences arising from the technical efforts around public health and human development. It is one of many countries dealing with an ongoing HIV epidemic sustained through multiple underlying factors. Hence, another important aspect of my work is to ensure that the UN Joint Programme on HIV and our partners in DRC play our part in contributing towards high quality documentation, evidence-generation and dissemination to support ongoing improvements in global public health.

How long have you worked there (and what was your previous job)?

I started in this role at the end of August 2020. Prior to this, I served in multiple Public Health and development roles including UNAIDS Country Director a.i. for Guyana and Suriname; UNICEF Country Representative and Designated Official for United Nations Staff Safety and Security in Belize; UN Resident Coordinator a.i in Belize; Senior Advisor on HIV and Global Team Lead on Adolescents and HIV at UNICEF Headquarters in New York; UNAIDS Country Coordinator a.i. in Namibia; Regional Advisor, HIV and AIDS for UNAIDS in Eastern and Southern Africa. However, my professional career started in biomedical research when I served as a Research Assistant at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in a team investigating the genetic predictors of common cancer in children.

What is a typical day for you?

A typical day for me starts really early (between 4 am and 5 am) as I enjoy reading quietly and orienting myself for the day ahead. I catch up on news from my family, news in the country and around the world, then turn to work-related communication. This helps me prioritise and manage my time during the rest of the day. I like to settle into work early each morning, check in with the members of my team and then follow the activities set out in my calendar. These include one-on-one and group meetings or workshops, many of them virtual now but many also face-to-face. My day always includes some time with staff within my team to work together on programme or operational priorities.

In addition to meetings, I have various reports to write and review, so I block some time through the day to work on these and follow up with my colleagues and partners as needed. I check on staff within my team and I like to do this throughout the day by walking around and chatting. Thanks to easy contact with phone and video-conferencing options, I can check in regularly on staff working from home too. I like to go to bed early and at a regular time (9 pm) as I find I’m most energetic and well-rested when I do this.

Tell us about a project you are currently working on?

I arrived in the DRC after the country had just developed a new multi-year HIV strategy, the national framework to serve as the basis for coordinated partner engagement, monitoring and resource mobilisation. The strategy aims to address continuing challenges such as the disproportionately low coverage of antiretroviral treatment among children (about half the level in adults), limited access to viral load testing to ensure effective management of antiretroviral therapy, stigma and discrimination, and sexual and gender-based violence. The strategy identified organisations representing communities as crucial partners in tackling these challenges and ultimately for accelerating progress towards the national goals.

I am currently working with the UNAIDS team and partners to develop an engagement and support strategy for civil society to ensure that these actors can effectively deliver on their role in the response – facilitating community monitoring and data collection, greater community level awareness and buy-in, improved knowledge and demand for service, more effective engagement of families to enhance linkage to and retention in care, and long-term attitude, social and behavioural change.

What three words would you use to describe your role?

Influential, technical, political.

What is your favourite thing about working there?

I love working with the team here because they are highly talented and deeply committed and I find the same attributes mirrored among our partners, it’s very motivating. The work is urgent in DRC and it’s extremely uplifting to have the opportunity to work alongside a team and partners that bring such a high level of personal investment, capacity, determination and resolve to work every day.

Where are you from?

Uganda.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

It’s a wonderful way to re-educate society about Black History, culture and contributions and to reframe our collective story.

What three words would you use to describe Black History Month?

Insightful, long overdue.

Are there any influential Black role models in your life?

My parents and family, particularly the women who cheered and pushed me on at every stage as my dreams took shape. We grew up facing so many challenges living through wars, violence, displacement, repeated interruption of school, total breakdown of the most basic social services and a sense of shame at the seemingly unshakeable dysfunction of our country.

As I grew older and became more aware of the extent of the additional layers of hazard that I faced as a black, African female, a true sense of fear and dread started to set in and I have my family to thank for helping me to deal with this so effectively. The logical reaction for any child would have been to despair but my parents, my family and particularly the women in our family who kept speaking to us constantly during simple chores, walks to the market, in the neighbourhood or quietly over a meal, would not have any talk of despondency. Instead, they challenged us to think constantly about what we would do to change things once we had the opportunity – for women, for Uganda, for Africa, for Black people everywhere. They insisted that we would have the opportunity to change things so they would insist on our engaging most seriously in these conversations. They would use these as the basis for a contract, reminding us at every opportunity over the years that we needed to push ourselves constantly further in our learning and self-development to do as we had intended.

Who is someone making Black History today?

I’d have to say, black children and young people. Confronted with stereotypes and narratives about them that they do not recognise in their lives, they are using every talent and tool at their disposal – from music, art, literature and drama to science, sports and social causes – to write their own story, a truer story about who they are, what they can and wish to do, what they care and dream about, what they love and how they relate. They are pushing back and right out of limits assigned to them by a society that has for too long sought to paint boundaries within which black people should grow, aspire, work and remain. The beautiful result is much greater visibility and recognition today of black people and our stories – told in our voices and words everywhere, recognition of our talent and contribution to society in ways that far exceed those told in the third-person narratives that have formed global perspective on our history, culture, contributions to our global human experience.

“When I’m not working I am…”

Cooking, baking, eating, reading, listening to music, spending time with family and friends.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

My dreams evolved: a writer, a politician, a scientist, a veterinarian, a doctor, a leader that would make a positive difference.

What is your most treasured possession?

Life.

What is your favourite joke?

I can’t tell it because you’ll publish it. It’s really funny though!

What is your favourite place?

Home. Specifically, the veranda of my childhood home in Jinja, Uganda where I spent many hours as a child staring out at the sun reflected on the River Nile, gazed up with my Dad at the stars in the sky at night as he pointed out constellations and reflected on the world and politics, read quietly or celebrated birthday parties with friends, and held parliamentary sessions with my cousins and friends as we plotted how we’d minimise the certain trouble that lay ahead of us after whatever ill-advised activities had led us onto a certain collision course with trouble (corporal punishment was not illegal in those days).

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I love to cook and I’ve actually written a book of recipes.

If you are an alumnus and would like to be highlighted in Black History Month, please email alumni@lshtm.ac.uk.

Key lessons from Mexico’s changes to the obesity policy agenda

By Angela Carriedo  (World Public Health Nutrition Association)

The 2014 Mexican soda (sugar-sweetened beverages) tax policy supported rapid policy diffusion. It also improved the conditions within the country to progress on the obesity agenda. How and why did it happen? Our article published in Health Policy and Planning, provides some key lessons about the soda tax’s policy process. It describes the primary outcomes that have positively changed the political context for nutrition policy in the country.  The  warning FOPNL and the sale ban of junk foods in the states of Oaxaca and Tamaulipas are examples of these changes.  Here we outline three key lessons.

Lesson 1:  Observe power dynamics

Power dynamics allowed the soda tax to be on the policy agenda but also restricted its potential effect.  Policy entrepreneurs were key to bring the soda tax to the agenda. Firstly, the civil society’s intense and well-funded communication campaigns highlighting the obesity rates as a public health emergency, and the associated high consumption of sugary drinks triggered public debates.  Secondly, the support of academics with evidence and a “white paper” with key policy solutions, including the soda tax.  Thirdly, key politicians either in power or contesting for it liked the soda tax and advocated for it.  All of these factors contributed to increased pressure towards the government for change.  Nevertheless, soda producers, with support of their food and beverage corporate representatives, executed their power throughout the process. For instance, some beverages were tax exempted, closed door negotiations with the government prevented the soda tax to be progressive, some threats to policy entrepreneurs with spyweb were discovered; and soda producers and the federal government negotiated some high-impact public-private initiatives.

Lesson 2: Framing the policy and make it an intragovernmental effort

Recently, food policy experts have spoken for a “Food in All Policies” approach to transforming our food system, aiming to incorporate actions to improve health through dietary changes, determined by the environment.  The synergy of the Ministry of Finance (MoF) and the Ministry of Health (MoH) to outline the soda tax in their sectorial policy plan strengthened the voice for the policy and obscured opposition by the food and beverage corporations.

The soda tax, framed in the Ministry’s of Health and in the Ministry’s of Finance policies gave precedent to intragovernmental approaches for nutrition policies.  With the new president, Andrés Manuel López in office in 2018, a strong mandate to include food in all policies is under development with the strategy called “GISAMAC” (Grupo Intersectorial de Salud, Alimentación, Medio Ambiente y Competitividad) aiming to “seek the articulation, harmonisation and progressive evolution of the public policies and the programmatic-operational offer of the Executive Federal so that, through a systemic and integral vision, the feeding and food production of the country is improved.” This mandate, and the COVID pandemic with fatality shown to be close related to NCDs, has served as a driver to expedite the nutrition policy in Mexico.

Lesson 3. Build issue networks and powerful policy communities

The UN and WHO outlines building strong coalitions amongst promoters of regulatory measures to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as a key ingredient for policy change. It is not always easy or successful. In Mexico, the calls for policy actions to tackle the obesity epidemic and reduce the incidence of diabetes were the first step into building a strong group speaking up for improving policy measures, including the soda tax.

The policy debates between the supporters and opponents of the tax strengthened coalitions between supporters. They helped to unpack issues of accountability and corporate interference during the soda tax implementation and evaluation process settled by the Ministry of Health (OMENT). Although there was strong leadership from a couple of national civil society organisations, the policy communities, or coalitions, developed into an established group including academics and politicians, and becoming an international reference.   Recently the coalition has supported, endorsed and even participated formally with the policymakers in developing and implementing the new warning FOPNL, shifting the power of corporate actors on the nutrition policy process.  Like the soda tax, the FOPNL was and continues to be highly contested. Still, the well-resourced policy supporters are prepared for any pushback and challenges imposed by their opponents.

Organisations such as the Global Health Advocacy Incubator, and the rollout of Bloomberg’s Obesity program have supported Mexico and other countries with similar socio-political contexts to strengthen coalitions. With the support of these and other international donors, ci vil society organisations and academic networks in several low- and middle-income countries are producing evidence and building strategic connections to support national policies. They are also building capacity on corporate determinants of health, conflicts of interest, and interference of F&B industries, critical for measures like the soda tax to be successful.

Conclusion

As our paper discusses, three main lessons arise from this case.  Firstly, it was critical to observe how the power dynamics between the supporters and opponents of the soda tax worked to orchestrate an opportunity to have it in the policy agenda. Second, it is critical that different governmental agencies promote and support the policy; and third, the strong consolidation of the community coalitions to support policy change, beyond its implementation, has been crucial to building the nutrition policy agenda further.


Paper 

Alumni Profile: Joel Aik

Joel Aik (MSc Epidemiology, 2011) works as an Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology Director for the Environmental Health Institute National Environment Agency, Singapore. In this blog, he explains his journey since leaving LSHTM and advice for current students.

“I was offered an agency fellowship to train as an Epidemiologist, and I wanted to learn from the best, so LSHTM was a natural choice. After I completed my degree at LSHTM in 2011, I returned to my agency to resume my career. LSHTM left a deep burning desire in me to apply the skills and knowledge that I had acquired. Though I actively sought opportunities to apply my newfound expertise, I was somewhat disappointed that the subsequent back-to-back job roles in policy formulation and implementation I took on required little of what I had learnt. So I contemplated my future.

“In July 2015, when my son turned two and my daughter had just experienced her first month of life, I started on a research-based public health doctorate at the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia) with my agency’s blessing. I was thrilled to apply the LSHTM epidemiological training to my research on food-borne diseases in Singapore. I have always connected with my LSHTM course mates through Facebook and enjoy reminiscing about our past days. I am also a beneficiary of their epidemiological expertise which I tap on now and then (without shame).

“I took up a full-time research position at the Environmental Health Institute in April 2018, overseeing their focus areas on epidemiology, ecology and diagnostics. I was conferred with my doctorate in December that year, an achievement attributable to my wonderful experience at LSHTM, as well as a great team of inspiring academic supervisors at UNSW.

“COVID-19 has affected my work by compelling working from home as an important safe distancing measure for the foreseeable future. However, this has also reduced opportunities for social interactions at the workplace. I am concerned that new hires now have a more challenging time building relationships and establishing their professional network. So I have begun exploring new approaches with my colleagues to strengthen bonds within the institute.

My professional experience over the last two decades in public health with the agency has enriched my perspective about the intersections of life, family, work and society. I dreamt about pursuing research as a career after LSHTM and had to wait almost a decade before I was given the opportunity to do so. Along the way, my children and my wife survived my fatherhood, I survived my own growing eccentricity, and I gained peace in understanding that there is only so much that one person can achieve alone. Without the support of my family and friends, my life would be nowhere near meaningful today. I have been blessed.

One memorable quote comes to mind when I look back at my life: “… you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward” – Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Address 2005. My advice to current students is not to wait for the dots to come to your doorstep. Go out, find what you love and give meaning to each of those dots that come your way. Some dots will be easier than others but remember that the tougher ones always have character-moulding elements to them. How you respond to them will determine the manner in which you go on to inspire and motivate others. I hope to inspire other individuals to give their best in whatever they do and also get more research published, lots more!”

If you are an alumnus and would like to share your COVID-19 story, please click here to find out more.

Information about how you can support, promote and share LSHTM’s COVID-19 Response work is available here.

60 seconds with Dr Mininim Oseji

October is Black History Month in the UK, an annual observance that celebrates and reflects on Black history, arts and culture, as well as recognising the achievements and roles of Black people in shaping history. LSHTM is committed to fostering a supportive, enabling and inclusive environment, where all individuals are treated with dignity and respect, and where there is equality of opportunity for all regardless of characteristics or background.

Dr Mininim Oseji is the Permanent Secretary for the Delta State Ministry of Health in Asaba, Nigeria. She is also the National President for the Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria (MWAN). She recently shared her incredible COVID-19 story with us, describing her work to aid the pandemic response in Nigeria. She has completed four LSHTM courses, most recently the Diploma in Health Systems Management graduating in 2007. To celebrate Black History Month, we asked her some quick fire questions!

What is your role and what does it involve?

Permanent Secretary, Delta State Ministry of Health, Asaba, Nigeria.
My role involves advising the Honourable Commissioner for Health on various aspects of the health sector. I supervise the directors of the seven departments in the Ministry of Health. I assist in providing the oversight function of the parastatals of the health sector. Also, I am the Chief Accounting Officer of the Ministry and sign the financial documents.

National President, Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria.
My role here is Chief Administrative Officer of the association. I supervise the general affairs and as mandated by the National Executive Council, preside at all meetings. I sign all legal documents as authorised by the executive for the transaction of any official business of the association. I make appointments as specified in the constitution and make such other appointments as needed to implement the action of the executive. I also represent the association at meetings with other organisations.

Where are you based?
Asaba, Delta State in Southern Nigeria.

How long have you worked there (and what was your previous job)?
I have worked in my role as Permanent Secretary since December 2016. I was previously Permanent Secretary/Executive Director of Delta State Primary Health Care Development Agency in Asaba – one of the parastatals in the health sector.

What is a typical day for you?

As Permanent Secretary, I arrive at the office and sign the attendance book, exchange pleasantries with the staff in my office, look at my to-do list and check off activities as they are successfully implemented. I carry out routine actions on files and mails minuted to my office, and meet with the Honourable Commissioner to discuss and strategise on matters affecting the health sector. I meet with various directors to provide guidance on projects and programmes, and attend meetings organised by any of the parastatals in the health sector as well as our development partners. I attend many events to which top government functionaries have been invited, review current research activities, correspond with colleagues and staff, inspect the on-going or completed projects in health facilities and sign cheques for the release of funds to individuals or organisations. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, I work mostly from home and most meetings are organised virtually.

In my role as National President, most activities are online. It involves circulating relevant messages through our MWAN National WhatsApp and Telegram platforms, following up on action points of meetings as well as assignments given to the executive members of the associations. There are numerous virtual programmes of the National Secretariat and State Branches which I regularly attend, usually presenting some remarks. I also facilitate several Continuing Medical Education programmes, often presenting lectures to build the capacity of our members and other participants. Where relevant, I present position statements on relevant topics and addresses to celebrate selected World Days. When we have physical meetings, like National Executive Council meetings, there are a lot of activities carried out to plan for the meeting. I write proposals for funding and applications for ethical approval for our research projects. I also analyse data collected from projects and research for presentation and publication. I facilitate the production of our publications like newsletters and books of proceedings.

Tell us about a project you are currently working on?

Male involvement in Maternal and Child Health. In this project, we advocate to get males from all walks of life to commit to Maternal and Child Health and become one of our male champions. We have decorated eight males so far including the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.

What three words would you use to describe your role?

Promoting, accelerated, and progress.

What is your favourite thing about working there?

My favourite thing about working as Permanent Secretary is having the power to make a positive difference in the health of the people of Delta State.

My favourite thing about working as National President is the ability to motivate State Branches to adopt and domesticate innovative programmes that are initiated by the National Secretariat.

What is your proudest career achievement?

Contributing to the implementation of the free maternal health care programme in Delta State including Maternal and Perinatal Death Response Surveillance. 

What does Black History Month mean to you?

It reminds me of all the success stories of Africans in Diaspora and the efforts some have made to improve the lives of other Africans in their home countries.

In May 2008, I participated in the 17th Annual Africa/Diaspora Conference at the California State University, Sacramento, USA, where I presented a paper titled ‘Mentoring Female Youths in the Niger Delta’. I became interested in skills transfer from Nigerian and African Health Workers in Diaspora to those in their home countries. Establishment of patient support groups for mental illness and cancer is an important area that I have been seeking skills transfer for. After several short courses and a Masters Course in the UK, I published a book titled ‘Maximizing the Benefits of Foreign Education: A memoir of my experience studying abroad as an International Student from a developing country’ in 2012. I was inspired to write the book by challenges faced when attempting to translate foreign education into development of home societies. In 2015, I gave a short presentation at the Annual Conference of Overseas Fellowship of Nigerian Christians which took place in Birmingham UK and encouraged participants to key into the Adopt Your Own Village Project to make a difference, particularly in the health sector. Whenever I meet someone with the same vision, I know there is hope for improvement of the lives of Africans.

What three words would you use to describe Black History Month?

Black is Beautiful.

Are there any influential Black role models in your life?

Yes, Condoleezza Rice – Former Secretary of State USA, Dora Akunyili – Former Director-General Nigeria Agency for Food and Drug Control, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – Former Minister of Finance in Nigeria and Eleanor Nwadinobi- the first Nigerian President of the Medical Women’s International Association.

“When I’m not working I am…”

Watching old movies.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Cool, calm and calculated.

What is your favourite book?

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

What is your favourite joke?

Quote from Clare Huxtable in Cosby Show: “We have planted roses but we keep getting these weeds.”

What is your favourite place?

London.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

That I am a fan of the Royal Family and attended the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on 29 April 2011 in London with my first Daughter, Sharon.

If you are an alumnus and would like to be highlighted in Black History Month, please email alumni@lshtm.ac.uk.

Community Fundraising: What to do in times of COVID-19

In recent months, our community of fundraisers have started to think outside the box showing innovative ways to support LSHTM’s important work. They have been raising funds to support LSHTM’s mission to improve global health equity, preparing the future leaders to face unprecedented challenges like coronavirus.

Would you like to do something to help LSHTM tackle COVID-19? From sponsored book readings to virtual marathons, there are many options you can take part in! Recently, to honour a former LSHTM student’s birthday several family members made a donation in the former student’s name to support LSHTM’s COVID-19 Response Fund. Why not ask your friends and family to support LSHTM’s work by setting up a JustGiving page and help us fight the virus together.

Coronavirus has held back many of our face-to-face events but our supporters are determined to continue their hard work raising funds, like Sally Callow. Since 2014, Foggy the dog – a soft toy inspired by Sally’s real dog Patch who sadly passed away in 2017, has been travelling all over the world helping to raise funds for ME/CFS research.

Last year, Sally chose to raise funds for CureME – the UK’s first ME/CFS biobank based at LSHTM. Foggy the dog travelled an impressive 223,540 miles and raised over £1,800 to support CureME’s important research, despite having to end his adventure two months earlier than expected, due to coronavirus. Foggy had travelled around the globe including the Caribbean, Germany and Latvia before his fundraising tour came to an end.

Sally (pictured with Foggy) will celebrate her 44th birthday on 13 October and has chosen to ask for donations to mark the occasion. You can support Sally and LSHTM’s important work by making a gift today.

If you would like to raise funds for us, please get in touch by emailing alumni@lshtm.ac.uk. With your help, we can amplify our voice, support global response efforts and help to save lives around the world.

Class of 1920

As we welcome new students to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, it seems appropriate that we reflect on the students who attended 100 years ago, the class of 1920.

The 64th session ran from October to December. 72 students attended the School, of these 61 were men and 11 were women. They came from the following services:

  • Colonial Service: 8
  • Indian Medical Service: 6
  • Royal Navy:1
  • RAMC: 1
  • Missions: 5
  • Private: 51

The School’s student registers record a number of details about the students including their destination on leaving, the majority of students went to India (24), and the next most popular destination was Africa (10) but students ended up all over the world including China, West Indies and South America.

Summary of 64th session in student register

The students were taught in Endsleigh Gardens, this was a former hotel that was converted to a hospital for officers during the First World War. This building is still standing in Gordon Street and is now the student union for University College London. The School moved from its original home in the Albert Docks in early 1920, although the building wasn’t officially opened until November 1920. The School remained here until 1929 when we moved to the Keppel Street site.

School in Endsleigh Gardens

There was a link with Keppel Street as some of the students lived in the Indian YMCA which was on the Keppel Street site. In August 1916 a wooden mock-Tudor YMCA Hut opened on the corner of Keppel and Gower Street in London’s Bloomsbury.  “The Shakespeare Hut” as it was called became a home from home for predominantly Anzac soldiers on leave from the Front and remained so until 1919 when it briefly housed  the Indian YMCA before it was pulled down in 1920s to make way eventually for the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine which still occupies this site today.

Shakespeare Hut

Among the students there was at least one individual who went on to work for the School and for whom we hold archival material.

Patrick Alfred Buxton, born 1892, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. While at Cambridge, Walter Fletcher encouraged Buxton’s studies in the Natural Sciences Tripos. During the Great War he qualified in medicine at St George’s, and then spent his time in the Royal Army Medical Corps collecting insects in Mesopotamia and Persia. During the 1920s he gradually equipped himself for his future role as an eminent medical entomologist, working in Cambridge, London and abroad. From 1923-1925 he led an expedition to Samoa, New Hebrides and the Western Pacific Islands.

Patrick Buxton

In 1925 Buxton succeeded Col A. Alcock as Director of the Department of Entomology in the new London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and became the Professor of Entomology in London University in 1933. With V. B. Wigglesworth he built up the study and teaching of insect physiology and medical entomology in the School. His studies of lice (The louse, 1939,1947) involved students, friends and family members as incubators and have become legendary.

Buxton did invaluable work on insecticides leading to the control of typhus in the war in Italy and elsewhere. Buxton wrote papers on many other zoological subjects and has several species of birds to his credit. He was elected a member of the Medical Research Council, President of the Royal Entomological Society and of the Linnean Society. In addition, he was a member of many other learned bodies. At the time of his death in 1955, he had had the longest service of any member of the active staff of the School.

The Patrick Buxton Memorial Medal and Prize, which was founded in his memory is awarded to the best student of the year in Medical Parasitology.

For further information on the material featured in this blog, please contact archives@lshtm.ac.uk