Home away from home

As I near the end of my assignment (3 weeks to go!), here are a mix of reflections, both on day-today life as well as work.

Sometimes it feels like you’re so far away from home:

  • When you play a staring contest with the two sheep who are trying to intimidate you while sunbathingsheeponbeach
  • When you dodge not only a sea of taxis, colourful public transit buses and cars but also horse-drawn carriage-like things that seem to be used for transporting everything and anything (think: bricks to onions to people)
  • When you drive by the rave-like, neon lights that come out of the crown of the gigantic and very controversial 27M USD monument that was commissioned by the previous Presidentmonument1

At other times, however, you actually feel quite close to home:

  • Looking over the organic goodies for sale at the monthly Dakar farmer’s market and chatting to the local artisans and admiring their work at the annual Dakar Christmas Fairfarmer market.JPG
  • Eating a hotdog after two back-to-back softball games at the incredible (and very hidden) US embassy fieldsoftball field.JPG
  • Staring at your computer for hours, writing up protocols and SOPs for Senegal’s noncommunicable disease (NCD) training modules (picture is of a Ministry of Health meeting that informed part of the protocols)conference

Okay, maybe the last one doesn’t remind everyone of home. But for those of you who work at GSK, in the world of health care and/or any industry that requires some degree of standardized processes for that matter, this might actually be quite familiar.

Since the activities that were the subject of my last blog (fields visits to investigate access to essential medicines and technologies), I have been working with the Ministry of Health (MOH) in developing modules that will essentially make up a giant book of ‘treatment guidelines for NCDs’. These will complement the strategic aim of the MOH to de-centralize NCD care in order to (best case) prevent disease, (next best case) catch them early, and (next next best case) treat them effectively. All of these outcomes are better than the current norm: late-stage diagnosis of NCDs, painful and costly last-resort interventions and in the worst cases, the statement of ‘it’s too late’. And this is happening in all areas of NCDs: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and the list goes on…

So the final outcome is what I think about while I put together these modules, which will be validated next week at a MOH workshop. I channel the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) process I worked on while at GSK (Kathy, if you are reading this, thank you for truly introducing me to this process J) and I think about the difference this will hopefully make in ensuring that patients have access to reliable, consistent and quality care.

SOP-writing skills were the last thing I thought I would take from ‘home’ and apply here. But turns out they are incredibly useful; take the Ebola crisis for example, every last action that needs to be taken is documented through a well-organized set of SOPs so that no matter where you are in the health care system, you know exactly what to do when a potential case presents itself. To put this is real terms: when a feverish patient presents in a health post located in an Ebola-endemic zone, the first nurse to receive them knows exactly what to do to protect himself/herself while providing care and clarity on next steps for the patient.

And so, the feedback many PULSE volunteers share upon return, the promise of surprising yourself while on assignment by using skills you had not predicted would be useful, rings true.



  1. So true.. I really think that all these situations which are only to be witnessed here are making this experience very unique. You’ve done a great sustainable job with your NGO 🙂

  2. Isn’t it amazing how quickly the PULSE adventure comes to an end. It sounds like you are truly enjoying the experience. Great blog on differences and similarities that you have encountered. Safe travels home.

  3. Great job Carissa, so proud for you! Your blogs are always so interesting to read, thanks for making a true difference in the lives of patients!

  4. It’s always so enjoyable to read your updates! Sounds like such an incredible journey! I can’t wait to catch up with you when you’re back!!

  5. I absolutely loved this blog. You clearly have embraced your assignment and made a difference. The pictures really bring the story to life. It’s not everyday you see sheep while sunbathing! Enjoy the last month.

  6. I LOVED reading this blog, Carissa! Thank you for sharing these fantastic photos and reflections – your writing speaks in a voice that is true and heart-felt and lovely. Keep being the change till your last moment, and then we’ll be waiting for you back at GSK with open arms 🙂

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