Destination – DAKAR!

PATH outside Bienvenue à Dakar Sign - July 2015

Six years ago, almost to the day, I was in rural Ghana, lying under a mosquito net in a small, hot room, and I found myself in a state of feverish delirium so intense it is almost hard to describe. I was experiencing first-hand what millions of people suffer from every year: malaria.

The most striking thing about the whole experience was not how acutely sick I felt but was that, where I was in the world, malaria was just like a common cold. As a born and raised Canadian, it’s a bit hard to imagine writing a school note that cites malaria as the reason for absenteeism. Realizations and comparisons like this kept popping up over the time I spent in Ghana, as I learned and worked in the areas of entrepreneurship, youth unemployment and agriculture.

My experience in Ghana both humbled me and touched the depth of my soul as I was fortunate to witness incredible examples of humanity and compassion. Consequently, it also set me on a path of unquenchable desire to be a part of making the world less unequal.

So I went to do an MBA. This might seem like a strange choice after working in international development however it became very clear to me while in Ghana that business is driving change in the most obvious and intense ways across sub-Saharan Africa. I needed (I wanted) to have all these powerful tools at my disposal.

Flash forward 6 years from my Malaria experience and I am now comfortably seated in my office at the Canadian GSK headquarters in Mississauga. I have been with the company for three-and-a-half years and though my roles have changed (primary care sales to pricing and trade strategy), the reasons I joined GSK have not. Our top performance on the Access to Medicines Index and the multiple pioneering business models for developing countries (such as our tiered pricing model, community healthworker reinvestment, our malaria vaccine etc) – these are what drew me here.

In a few days, I will be in a different office. One that is 6,637 kilometres away. I will be joining the list of 500+ GSK employees who, since 2009, have been fortunate enough to be a part of the company’s skills-based volunteering program, Pulse; wherein a GSK employee is seconded to a non-profit partner, either locally or internationally, for a period of 3-6 months. The desired outcomes are that change occurs on three levels: within the individual, within the community they will be contributing to and within GSK upon return.

I am very excited that I have been placed with the global health organisation, PATH, in Dakar, Senegal, to work on national health strategy development. In an attempt to be concise and not initially overwhelm those of you who read this, in a nutshell:

  • Malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis – these diseases are communicable, infectious, spreadable.
  • Diabetes, hypertension, COPD, cancer – these diseases are non-communicable (NCDs), chronic, not passed on to others.

Many low and middle income countries are coping with a “double burden” of disease; progress is being made in lowering rates of communicable diseases however this progress is hindered by the skyrocketing rates of the NCDs. My work will be focused on NCD strategy development.

I think of NCDs in Canada – they are costly and difficult to manage. Many of them have reached epidemic status (think diabetes, hypertension). What is truly energizing about working on NCD strategy in Senegal is that there is a tremendous opportunity to avoid a similar fate as Canada and the US by working prevention, early diagnosis and treatment.

And for one last piece of motivation? Back to Malaria. Due to a worldwide, multi-sector effort, the global malaria mortality rate was reduced by 47% from 2000-2013 (source: World Malaria Day 2015). That is huge. In Senegal, the conversation for Malaria has moved from controlling seemingly unmanageable rates to elimination of the disease. This is the kind of impact that lights a fire in your belly.

Thank you for reading and I look forward to sharing this journey with you!

19 comments

  1. As soon as I saw the word “Ghana”, I had to keep reading. My PULSE experience there was life-changing. Kudos to you for realizing how important business is to international development and doing something with that knowledge. I look forward to reading more about your experiences with PATH in Dakar.

  2. Well done Carissa. I hope that you find this experience life-changing and rewarding. I am looking forward to hearing more about your adventures. Bonne chance!

  3. Carissa, you are an inspiration to us all. I can’t wait to hear about the impact that you have with PATH.

  4. Good on you, Carissa. I look forward to learning more about your mission, adventures and experiences in Senegal. Continue to make a difference !!

  5. Much like Michelle, as soon as I read Ghana, you pulled me in. I was a PULSE volunteer in 2013 in Takoradi, Ghana. I worked with Jhpiego on a malaria prevention project. Love your blog and your motivation. I also have a connection to Mississauga as one of your collegues, Robin, has become a good friend of mine through PULSE. She would have been my roommate in Ghana, but instead is now doing a local assignment this year in Canada. I am excited that both you and Robin are representing GSK Canada. I can’t wait to follow your journey! Safe travels and continue to be the change!!

  6. Great to hear that you have arrived safely, and to learn the background to your journey to your PULSE assignment – very inspiring! Looking forward to hearing more news as the assignment progresses. Take care!

  7. Sometimes PULSE assignments are described as “Life Changing” and often refer to the GSK’s participant’s own life. Carissa – you have the power to to “Life Changing” for the people in Senegal. There are no limits to what YOU can do!

  8. What a great first blog post, Carissa! Your voice is so clear and purposeful; I could feel your energy & passion to help “make this world less unequal” throughout your entire entry. Keep up the great work – and keep sharing your adventure with us! PATH & PULSE are lucky to have you as part of our families 🙂

  9. Wonderful blog, Carissa. So glad your mom shared it with us. You are an inspiration, so full of passion. I admire your desire to “make the world less unequal”. Good luck with everything and we look forward to the next blog.

  10. Carissa, great to hear from and as always, you are proving to be a source of inspiration through this first blog. Looking forward to hear and good luck on the journey.
    Salut
    Eric

  11. Glad to hear you arrived safely. Your passion to make a difference in the world is evident be it when you are in the GSK Mississauga office or in Dakar.
    I am looking forward to many more updates.

  12. Greetings Carissa -was especially interested in your comments about NCD abroad. I am working with The Food Trust in Philadelphia,PA-a unique organization with mission access to healthy foods(fruits & vegetables) to underserved populations. Primary focus on health education,wellness and prevention and partnerships with Farmers’s Markets in these underprivileged areas that don’t have source of purchasing healthy foods. Addressing chronic disease -so important! Looking forward to reading about NCD strategies!
    Visit- Thefoodtrust.org

  13. What a passionate person you are! Making a difference in peoples life’s is very rewarding!
    Look forward to reading your blogs.
    Enjoy the experience.

  14. Carissa, I am so happy and continually impressed with how your vision stays at the core of everything you do. You are a game changer and here is another opportunity for you to do great work! Stay well, looking forward to hearing more about your work adventure!

  15. Hi Carissa, I saw your post and was really inspired ! You have so much enthusiasm and your passion for this project really shows through 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful experience in Senegal and that you can fulfill your goals. Good luck to you from France !

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