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School of Public Health News January 29, 2024

Q: What universities have you attended, degrees earned and graduation years?

Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) 2003, Master of Public Health (MPH) 2013, Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) 2024.

Q: Which program within the Department of Health Policy and Organization are you currently enrolled?

Maternal and Child Health Policy.

Q: What is your anticipated graduation date from your current program?

Spring 2024.

Q: Tell me about yourself (where you grew up, how you got into public health, how you ended up at UAB, etc.)

I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and spent most of my life as a child there. We also lived in Zimbabwe for a few years and had a short stint in the United Kingdom while my father was in the diplomatic service. As an adult, I lived mainly in Abuja, Nigeria and briefly in other parts of Nigeria and other countries like Ghana and now the United States.

It was my mother’s not-so-gentle nudging that led me to study Medicine and Surgery as my first degree at the Ahmadu Bello University in Northern Nigeria. I have always exhibited a deep compassion for others, especially the underserved, as well as a passion for learning and continuous self-improvement. I guess to her, those were the qualities of a good physician. Sadly, I lost my mother to cervical cancer before I graduated from medical school. It was heartbreaking to learn as a medical student that with routine screening, and more recently vaccination, cervical cancer is preventable.

After graduation from medical school, I spent a year as an intern, at an unbelievably busy teaching hospital in Lagos, Nigeria. While there, I had to manage incessant and oftentimes preventable health problems. The major people affected were women and children from the underserved areas of the state. With virtually non-existent social amenities and the pervasive poverty among this group, this finding was not surprising. However, I decided to uncover the underlying reasons by asking more questions about their family, social and past medical histories. I discovered that a little health promotion and health education could have made a significant difference in their lives.

After my internship, I had to do the one- year mandatory para-military national service called the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC). I served as the only medical officer at a local government area (equivalent to a county in the U.S.) headquarters clinic. The residents of the LGAs did not like coming to the LGA clinic. So, we organized rotatory mobile clinics for the 16 wards (equivalent to municipalities in the U.S.). I observed that so many of the older adults had non-communicable diseases that were not being managed either by medication or lifestyle changes. Thus, together with some medical colleagues at other LGAs, I organized a free medical outreach where we provided health education and free medications. During this time, I also served as a volunteer primary care physician for a faith-based organization that organized free medical outreaches to the poor and underserved communities in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. It was then that I realized that I would not be fulfilled sitting in a health facility, waiting for the people to come to me. I needed to go and meet them where they were. In Nigeria, we call this community medicine, but the word public health is used to describe this as well. I discovered that donor-funded non-profit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) created better access to healthcare than the government. Thus, I found myself working with several international NGOs providing HIV care and treatment, Prevention of Maternal to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, maternal and child health, and nutrition services, as well as immunization programs. I had found my “calling.” I thrived in the public health and INGO space in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

While working as the PMTCT Technical Lead at Vanderbilt University’s HIV program in Nigeria, I met a UAB alumnus who encouraged me to apply to UAB for a doctoral degree. I read up about UAB and decided to apply a few years after our conversation – sometimes I wish I had done it sooner. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Q: Why did you choose to study Health Policy and Organization? And why at UAB?

My work has primarily been centered on public health issues relating to women and children. One thing I felt was lacking in our work in Nigeria was the research capacity. Reading up about the DrPH program, I saw that it was research-based and practical. I did apply to other universities and was accepted, but I chose UAB because of what I read about the school and the recommendation of my senior colleague.

Q: Is there a faculty member who has made an impact on your academic journey during this program?

Dr. Janet Turan has been my Academic Adviser since I started the DrPH program in 2019. Anyone who has worked with Dr. Turan knows that she is an outstanding mentor. She has been very supportive of my academic endeavors and has tremendously contributed to the development of my research capacity, especially in qualitative and mixed methods research. I have had the opportunity to work with her on two studies and co-authored a published paper. I would say she has made a very positive impact on my academic journey during this program.

Q: Have you been involved in any interesting projects or organizations during your time here?

I have been involved in a lot of interesting projects at UAB. I was part of a NIH-funded multidisciplinary study called the Maternal Mortality Supplement (MMS) study. The study examined factors contributing to racial disparities in severe maternal morbidity and maternal mortality in Alabama (PI was Dr. Monica Baskin). We presented the findings of this study at the Society for Maternal and Fetal Medicine (SMFM) Annual Pregnancy Meeting in 2022 where our poster was awarded the Award for Research Excellence (Best Poster). From this, we have published two peer-reviewed journal articles.

Currently, I am a predoctoral fellow on the American Heart Association (AHA) funded Providing an Optimized and emPowered Pregnancy for You (P3OPPY) project which is another multidisciplinary study led by Dr. Rachel Sinkey (PI) and Dr. Waldemar Carlo (co-PI) of the Heersink School of Medicine. The study is a follow on from the MMS study and seeks to understand how community health workers (CHWs) and digital health interventions (DHIs) can improve maternal health outcomes for women and infants from historically marginalized communities in Alabama. Preliminary findings from the qualitative aim of the study have been presented at different meetings including the APHA’s 2023 Annual Meeting which was held in Atlanta.

I was awarded the Moses Sinkala Travel Scholarship in 2020 for a study titled: Contextual Factors Driving HIV Infections in Selected Fishing Communities in Rivers State, Nigeria. In my previous work back home, some of us observed that several states with thriving fishing communities also notoriously had HIV prevalences that were higher than the national HIV prevalence. Due to the COVID pandemic and the lockdowns, I was unable to travel home for the study. However, technology came to the rescue, and I was able to remotely train a team of research assistants from the Community Medicine Department of the University of Port-Harcourt, Rivers State. The team conducted qualitative interviews, including focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with about 100 participants across three high HIV-prevalence LGAs. The abstract for this study was accepted for a poster presentation at the upcoming Consortium of Universities in Global Health (CUGH) Conference to be held in Los Angeles, CA in March 2024.

Q: What’s been your favorite class in the School of Public Health and why?

That’s a tough one. I love learning. I think I got that from my father. He is a life-long learner. I enjoyed virtually all my classes at UAB, and I have been able to apply the principles learnt to different aspects of my work. However, for some reason, two classes stand out to me right now. They are the Needs Assessment and Program Planning course offered by the Department of Health Policy and Organization (HPO) and the Health Program Evaluation class offered by the Department of Health Behavior (HB). I think they resonate with me because they are synergistic and they cover several aspects of the work I have done throughout my career as a public health physician managing different health programs: needs assessment, program planning, program implementation, monitoring and evaluation. I have also done some consultancy work in program evaluation for INGOs. So, I found the classes very interesting, engaging and practical.

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