November 11

My journey in Abuja

It’s been 4 months since I started my PULSE volunteer assignment with the Malaria program of the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in Abuja (Nigeria).  This US NGO, with delegations in 36 countries mainly from Africa and Asia, works hand in hand with the different local and state authorities to facilitate access to medical resources and make them more accessible and affordable to patients in these countries. In addition, they are instrumental in training and equipping health professionals with skills relevant to managing health issues in the societies they serve. CHAI’s scope of projects is wide and varied, focusing mainly on those areas which present the greatest disease and social burdens such as malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, family planning, infant mortality, maternal mortality, and cancer, etc.

Malaria remains one of Nigeria’s biggest public health problems and continues to be a great burden on the health system. In fact, Nigeria accounts for 25% of the global prevalence and 20% of deaths from malaria worldwide.

The project in which I am involved is attempting to build a more robust malaria surveillance system, especially in the private sector. For this, CHAI is conducting an innovative pilot study, whereby pharmaceutical retailers can report cases of malaria through a mobile surveillance application. The goal of improving the surveillance system is to more efficiently allocate resources, monitor the prevalence of the disease, and the success of malaria programmatic interventions.

Malaria conference celebrated in Abuja

Participating in this program is giving me a very enriching experience in many ways, although in some cases the situations I am facing have not been quite simple. Starting a new job and in a language other than mine, may have been the most difficult adjustment. However, little by little I have adapted. Apart from these challenges, that are sure to benefit me, learning in this area is also great. Working on this project is giving me a broader and different perspective of diseases caused by parasites. It has opened my eyes to the field of epidemiology, an interesting field that I have largely ignored prior to joining this program.

Although my work is primarily office-based analyzing data, I have had the opportunity of doing fieldwork- visiting pharmacies and other establishments in Lagos which has helped me to better understand the data I’m analyzing. My time in the field has given me first-hand insight into how part of the health system works and enhanced my understanding of the challenges that this project faces logistically and culturally.

Poster explaining the use of malaria test used during field job

But the PULSE experience I think goes beyond a new job and a new project, since it means living in a country with a different culture and, in my case, also with new colleagues. Abuja is the administrative capital of Nigeria and although in theory, it is a bubble within the country, it is a heterogeneous city of different cultures, ethnicities, and religions where the divide between upper and lower class is very stark.

Abuja city

Living in Abuja has meant an important life change, a change where many things work differently than I am used to. A change that is personally allowing me to value and appreciate more the life we have in Spain. But despite these differences, which getting used to at times has not been the easiest, I have had the chance to meet people, attend traditional parties and even meet fellow GSK Abuja staff. I even shared in the local “Orange Day” activities sharing toys and kits for newborns in a pediatric hospital. In addition, I have been fortunate to share the experience with other PULSE colleagues. Ashwin, Andre and Thomas, house and workmates who have become very good friends, without whom my stay here would have been very different.

GSK Abuja Orange day
Mountains around Abuja

There is less than two months left to finish this experience, and soon I will return to Madrid with new perspectives. I hope that the experience is not only fruitful for me, it is also my hope that through my work at CHAI has played my small part in improving the quality of health care in Nigeria in its fight against malaria.

Lagos city