Managing the emergency response to COVID-19 in Ghana, by PhD student Lawrence Lartey

Lawrence Lartey is an Emergency Room physician and is also a University of Salford PhD student in his second year of studies. He has taken a three-month interruption of studies to be part of the team that is responding to Ghana’s COVID-19 crisis. Below, he writes about his experiences and reflects on how his PhD journey so far has helped equip him to deal with his new role during this crisis:

“I am currently at the headquarters of the Ghana Health Service/Disease Surveillance Department helping with the epidemiology of the COVID-19 in Ghana (since January). I am assisting with THE handling of 1,065 passengers under mandatory quarantine, their follow up and laboratory testing. The team is also doing contact tracing of over 25,000 people and managing the 566 positive cases we have in the country as of 13/04/20. Our focus is on data collection, analysis and interpretation to guide government on public health policy decisions and actions. We are also under partial lockdown but those of us on the frontline still go to work 24/7. So far so good.

“I must confess that these past 18 months studying for my PhD has really shaped my thinking and approach to science and research. I can attest that I have improved with my analysis and appreciation of preparations for going into the field to collect data. I have had several opportunities to sit in the strategic Public Health Emergency Operation Center that contributes information to assist the Inter-Ministerial Coordinating Committee and National Coordinating Committee meeting at various levels of their work. I will share my experience from time to time when we started with the Emergency Preparedness plan for the country and now the Emergency response. I am also privileged to have very active and supportive leaders in the Public Health Division of the Ghana Health Service (Director: Dr Badu Sarkodie) and the Disease Surveillance Department (Head: Dr Asiedu-Bekoe). I am grateful for the opportunity they have given me to work with them.

“Considering that I have been a dyed-in-the-wool clinical practitioner, I have now transitioned into Public Health at the national level. The game changer for me has been my journey on the PhD programme. Your constant guidance and directions have opened my mind to many things including teamwork, working with superiors, doing critical analysis, logical reasoning, human behaviour and interests, crisis management, etc.

“Some years back, I would have hesitated to engage with the health system at that level because of gaps in my knowledge and competencies. But now I don’t feel as deficient as before, and in instances where I am not sure of the subject matter, I have used general principles I have learnt to solve the challenges I have encountered. I want to say a big thank you to you and Debs for everything you have done for me and continue to do.”

When the immediate crisis is over, Lawrence plans to return to his PhD research, which is based at Tema General Hospital in Ghana. He is carrying out a study into Emergency Department crowding and its impact on the clinical care and mortality outcomes of stroke patients, and is supervised by Prof Penny Cook and Dr Deborah Robertson.

From one of our Alumni – Chuks Onwunyi

I am Chuks Onwunyi from Nigeria. I bagged a Masters of Public Health degree from the University of Salford in 2017. My interest in public health was born out of a keen desire to understand the dynamics and variations in health of population. I wanted to understand what determines human health and how these factors could be managed in providing optimal population health. Enrolling in the MSc Public Health program was therefore a way to enhance my capacity to contribute positively to improving population/community health

Picking University of Salford was easy: Beyond my love for Manchester, the testimonials of alumni as well as the structured curriculum/programme informed my choice of and attraction to the University of Salford. Moreso, during my time at the university, the support received was immense. The lecturers were open and accessible, and I also had access to experts outside the school which helped me see the wide application of my course of study. The curriculum exposed me to different aspects of public health. I also enjoyed the mentorship program which gave me access to lecturers who had great experience in public health. Also, the lectures were designed to allow engagement with public health experts from different practice areas. This particularly helped me to see the application of theory in practice post graduation. I also networked with some of these experts which was helpful in shaping my next career decision.

Another interesting feature of the public health program at Salford is that it allowed for public health skill acquisition and development. During my program I led an external project which gave me firsthand experience and skills which I honed and have applied over time. Furthermore, after graduation, I have successfully led major international projects. Much of the successes recorded on these projects can be traced to the mentorship program which continues post-study. I have consulted my mentor (that was assigned to me during my study) at different times for references, ideas and direction.

I currently work as a Health Policy Analyst with the Government. I have led and supported several projects including the development of the Suicide Prevention Framework, Opioids harm reduction policy strategy, and design of the Alcohol harm reduction policy options. Before now, I led a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded project in Africa targeted at improving Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health outcomes.

I am grateful for my experience at Salford. The experience laid the foundation for all I have contributed to recently and the improved health outcomes being experienced in several countries. Salford to the World!

Studying a Master of Public Health at Salford University through a Chevening Scholarship program: a life-changing adventure by Dr Dimby Sambatra Ismael Rabejaona

At the Chevening official award ceremony in London

My Salford adventure started on August 2017 when I got awarded of the Chevening Scholarship that permitted me to pursue a post-graduate study of Public Health in the United Kingdom. The Chevening Scholarship is the UK government’s global scholarship program, funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and partner organisation that aimed to provide opportunities to leader, scholar, researcher and influencer from 144 countries worldwide to fulfil their dream to study in the UK. The application process for this life-changing opportunity was very demanding and competitive but I was driven and strengthened by my desire to experience the best that the UK has to offer in terms of academic life, career opportunities, culture, history, and leisure activities. Therefore, I challenged myself to fulfil all the requirements that was necessary in order to be awarded of such honour to study in the UK, where so many researchers, influencers, scholars, and leaders have shaped our modern world through their astonishing achievement – for example Sir Isaac Newton, Alexander Fleming, Sir Charles Darwin, Sir Alex Ferguson, or John Lennon.

Through my Chevening application process, I had to choose the UK universities that could provide me with the platform to achieve my lifetime project. I, therefore, conducted a thorough search of all UK Universities to find the one that could help me to fulfil my academic and professional goal. My search for the most appropriate university was based on my professional and academic background of public health and occupational medicine. In addition, I was looking for a University that could provide me with the skills and knowledge to strengthen the health system in my country Madagascar, particularly in terms of health at work and well-being, disease surveillance, epidemiology, data monitoring and statistics.

The University of Salford, particularly the Department of Public Health, stood among all UK universities as my first choice. Indeed, during my search for the best university, I discovered that the Salford Department of Public Health delivered a specific module about Health at Work and Well-being led by Dr Margaret Coffey – a well-known and respected researcher in the field of public health. Therefore, I contacted the University of Salford about this module that interested me. The public health team at Salford were keen to enlighten me with additional information through the module leader Dr Margaret Coffey and the programme leader Dr Anna Cooper-Ryan. I was surprised to discover that the module Health at Work and Well-being had been integrated into a particular module called 21st Century Global public health challenge. This module, led by Dr Anna Cooper-Ryan and Dr Margaret Coffey looked at the challenges of public health on a global scale. Because the Chevening Award represents a global initiative to promote tolerance, excellence in research, leadership and diversity, the choice of the Department of Public Health of the University of Salford became obvious to me as it promotes this global vision of public health by giving opportunities to international students, such as myself, to gather skills and knowledge, and to share my experience of public health among my peers. Definitely, the University of Salford was the place to be to achieve my master’s degree of public health.

With Prof Richard Stephenson the University Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the International Student Scholarship ceremony held at the University of Salford

When I first arrived in Manchester, and I met the public health team, my choice of the University of Salford was reinforced by the level of expertise of the lecturers, the university’s cutting-edge facilities, the amazing students Union, and the International Society activities. In addition, the city of Manchester appeared a vibrant city for the average student, which promoted diversity and tolerance, and provided a wide range of entertainment and leisure. This had a positive impact on my well-being as a student when the master’s study became more demanding. The high level of academic support and the workshops provided by the University of Salford helped me also to achieve a successful academic life.

One of the memorable periods of my academic life in Salford, was our field trip in Eyam when all the teaching staff and the students went on a public health field trip. Not only did the field trip help me to understand in a practical way the “nitty-gritty” of public health and epidemiology, but also permitted me to develop warm relationships with my lecturers and classmates, which strongly contributed to my academic success and well-being later. Apart from the field trip in Eyam, the dissertation project at the end of the academic year was also one of the best moments of my academic life at the University of Salford. During this dissertation project, I had the privilege to work with and to take advantage of the expertise of my supervisor, Dr Margaret Coffey, about the experience of part-time employment in the UK in respect of health and well-being. This project provided me with an in-depth understanding of the challenges that part-time workers might face in terms of health and well-being at work, and the drivers that might explain the level of commitment and satisfaction of the workers for their chosen career. Through this thesis project, I have gathered all the knowledge and skills I needed to go any further in the career of public health with a particular focus on health at work and well-being. In addition, it permitted me to reinforce my research skills and to learn to tackle efficiently all the issues that may occur during a research project that involves a systematic review methodology. I was also astonished by the high level of supportmy supervisor and all the teaching staff provided to me to achieve this memorable success in academic research.

In a nutshell, my academic year at Salford was full of success and was one of the best moments of my life so far. It permitted me to work and to learn from the experience of well-known researchers in public health. It taught me to think outside the box when a public health issue occurs and prepared me to address serenely any public health challenge. This experience helped me to grow, to be more confident, to be bold and to get ready to fight against all form of inequities, inequalities and injustices.

Views of an international student around public health and why it is important in the UAE

Ahmed Mohammed Al gharib is an international student from the UAE who is currently studying public health at Salford. Public Health is still developing in the UAE. Ahmed has written a short reflection around his thoughts about the importance of Public Health to the UAE.

Two major factors in UAE are of particular importance to public health; the very high socio-economic status; and the impact of the built environment.  In this regard, there is a larger population of wealthy individuals from all over the world who live in the UAE. In the major cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi it is not common to see poorer-class citizens. This socio-economic status is likely to impact on their health.

The wealth of the country has led to a huge increase in the number of tower blocks being built.  Within these, there is an emphasis on using the most up-to date technologies available, so potentially relying a lot at technology during work and/or at home, (e.g. through “smart house”) which is also likely to impact health conditions.  In particular, the Gulf countries face pretty high diabetic and obese populations compared to other countries.  This is in part due to the wealthy lifestyle and the consistent cultural/traditional hospitality; i.e. invitations to dinners with a huge amount of food. Culture plays a major role in this.

In the region:

  • Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has the world’s highest number of diabetic people.
  • Saudi Arabia takes 3rd place in Obesity.
  • Kuwait is the highest number of obese people worldwide.

I believe that the Public Health sector, when working alongside other professional sectors in cross-sectional teams, will carry out research that can work towards resolving many complex problems in the UAE and Gulf countries -that are a cause of mortality and morbidity.  Public Health staff are very useful, as they think critically about an issue to determine its origins, work along management and policy makers, and implement strategic decisions that will improve health, and health care delivery.  Advanced methods in public health have the potential to help people and organisations to cope with the rapid technological/industrial and organizational issues in the UAE to make the best possible decisions in relation to health and wellbeing. There is also the potential for aspects of public health maximizing productivity, profitability, and life satisfaction within the region.

In addition, there is a need for being ready to deal with future challenges resulting from changes in the interaction between people and the environment and implementing epidemiological skills to the field of public health. It is also important to correlate environmental and Public Health concepts to protect the citizens and the environment from stressors or contaminants there.  Particularly as the weather in UAE gets very hot during summer times; it over 54 Celsius! As such there is a need for public health solutions in relation to this area and suitable interventions and education.

Implementing the theoretical and practical knowledge of Public Health (e.g. in relation to communicable and non-communicable diseases) within the UAE has the potential to have a stronger impact compared to other countries.