Immunization Team Leader, Maternal Child Survival Program/USAID grantee
How did you end up working in public health?
After medical school, I spent 5 years practicing medicine in a variety of hospitals; I worked in a government-run facility, a private boutique practice and eventually moved to one of the busiest hospitals in Lagos. The hospital was right next to a slum and served Lagos’ low-income community. Shortly after I started, I noticed mothers would bring their children in repeatedly to receive care for the same diseases. It was always diarrhea and malaria, both easily preventable illnesses. My concern grew and I wondered why they were not following simple treatment measures. I learned quickly and painfully that it was because they couldn’t afford the prescribed medication and didn’t know the necessary preventive measures to take. This realization rattled and awoke in me a profound interest in public health.
I became determined to find diverse ways to address health issues that particularly challenged and affected vulnerable populations. My mission was to find ways to have a larger impact on health systems. The following year, I returned to the US and enrolled in an MPH program with a concentration in maternal and child health at Loma Linda University in California. I went back to Nigeria after my studies and have been working in public health ever since. This year actually marks my 21st anniversary in the health field!
When did your relationship with JSI begin?
My first encounter with JSI was in 2002; I was hired to lead the polio component of BASICS 2, a USAID-funded child survival project as the national training coordinator in Nigeria. I reconnected with JSI from 2007 to 2009 to serve as Deputy Chief of Party/Technical Director on IMMUNIZATIONbasics, another global USAID project that JSI was leading. And finally last August, I moved back to the US—to Arlington, Virgina—to support the Immunization Center as Senior Technical Immunization Officer. I am the Immunization team lead on the Maternal and Child Survival Program. I work with an incredible team and I love being a part of JSI!
Where do you call home?
I was born in Nigeria and spent my developmental years in the U.S. I lived in Texas, Kansas, and Louisiana. My family moved to Côte D’Ivoire when I was entering high school, so my high school years were split between there, and the neighboring Nigeria and Ghana. I have also spent time in France. I feel comfortable in all these places and like to consider myself a global citizen.
You’ve received some public recognition recently—Congratulations!
I have been fortunate enough to have had several humbling moments in my career. In 2012, I was given the United States Mission’s Eagle award for my contributions to maternal and child health, malaria, and reproductive health in Nigeria. Earlier this year, I was selected as one of 21 global New Voices Fellows by the Aspen Institute. The fellowship facilitates and fosters global discourse in development issues so it has opened up a lot of doors. The fellowship has helped my work appear in Huffington Post, World Economic Forum, World Policy Journal, and Project Syndicate with additional translations in seven languages!
I wish to bring my frontline public health experience to the global stage to inform, influence, and introduce new paradigms through approaches that build capacity and hold national governments accountable for health outcomes. I would also like to play a role in molding the next generation of public health practitioners, incorporating lessons from the South.
How do you keep connected and keep a pulse on your areas of interest outside work?
Twitter! I used to think it was a waste of time, but I see it now as a valuable tool for expanding my network, for sharing knowledge and best practices, and for connecting with peers around the globe. Follow me @joflakes!