Q&A with Simon Aseno (MLS.D), MPH Candidate in Global Health
We at Research, Innovation and Global Solutions, interviewed Simon Aseno about his professional experience before Gillings, his work as a Rotary Peace Fellow, his first year in the MPH program, and why he chose Gillings.
What was your background before enrolling in the MPH program?
I received my education from South Africa as a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, Australia as a Humanitarian Health Scholar, and Ghana. Right before coming to UNC, I worked for a California-based medical drone logistics company called Zipline International as a Community Lead in Ghana where I negotiated political and traditional complexities to ensure acceptance of the new technology largely in the Northern Sector. Stakeholder engagement/management and public relations were among my routine tasks.
Prior to joining Zipline, I was a staff of the Ministry of Health of Ghana for almost a decade. On that job, I implemented health education policies through curriculum development and training of mid-level public health professionals.
Between 2010 and 2013, I served on contract as a WHO-EPI Independent Regional Supervisor where I supervised and assessed immunization activities including measuring immunization coverage levels against WHO’s herd immunity benchmark of 95% coverage. In the field, I supervised the conduct of active surveillance for yellow fever and passive surveillance for other vaccine-preventable childhood illnesses including the performance of Measles Supplemental Activities (SIAs). Where immunization was freshly completed, I supervised fieldworkers on the identification of adverse events following immunizations (AEFIs) and reported same. In broad terms, this was a rapid assessment role of public health activities involving monitoring and evaluation of processes and outcomes concurrently.
Having worked in resource-limited settings, what challenges do you see with the current Global Health System and how can we reform that?
If we have to give true meaning to Global Health, we need to tackle three issues head on: localization, (de)colonization and what I want to refer to as “Global Health Tourism.”
Experience show that successful sustainable health projects and solutions are those co-created and owned by the beneficiaries themselves. That brings the issue of localization to focus. We need to up our game in this area by involving local communities in Global Health projects from the start. We can achieve this by easing sometimes stringent partnership requirements to allow for local participation especially in programme implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.
Practitioners and academicians agree that Global Health practice needs to be decolonized because the discipline has historical roots in the colonial project where communities were studied (and sometimes not even benefitted from those studies), and global health solutions were prescriptions handed out of head offices based in the developed world. Management-level jobs were (and largely continue to be) a preserve for Westerners and Europeans. And even today, Global Health internships based in New York and Geneva are also an exclusive for those who can afford—and that is a perpetuation of the very inequity Global Health seeks to address. These must change. The continuation of these legacy colonial-era work and engagement styles must be addressed—decolonized. I must admit that some strides have been achieved around decolonization, but we are slightly missing a point: we cannot decolonize global health practice without first decolonizing global health education. The education informs the practice. For me, way to go is to reexamine our curricula and see whether they are truly reflective of global health needs today. They certainly are not, and they should be amended. While acknowledging the effort Gillings (and perhaps, other futuristic-minded public health schools) is making in reforming its Global Health curriculum, I dare suggest that Global Health curricula (and by extension education) across the board do not adequately reflect nor address global health needs and therefore require improvement.
Now let’s tackle this thing: “Global Health Tourism.” Some Global Health practitioners have reduced global health practice to travelling around the world beholding vistas and the wonders of nature. Travel is a perk of the job, which is good, but I am worried that our motivations, posturing, and actions make us appear as though we aren’t Global Health professionals on the field, but some wildlife paparazzies or tourists. We cannot reduce a whole profession upon which the lives of the masses of people depend on to travel adventures and photo taking. Travel around the world should not be a motivation for global health practice or research. Global Health travel should be essential, and we should leverage the technological advances that are available to us today to minimize nonessential travel and cut cost. I am worried about this because the travel and transport budgets of some global health organizations are enough to solve some of the most pressing health challenges of communities in developing countries. The focus of travel should be on how to help the communities we travel to overcome their health challenges and not just to enumerate those challenges in the field, take photos and fly back to Washington and off again to Southeast Asia. Make no mistake, student travel to global health sites is essential travel! It is to allow students experience first-hand a global health setting and to apply classroom learnings to practice.
What has been your favorite aspect of your first year at Gillings?
The favorite aspect of my first year at UNC is my encounters with the richness and diversity of the faculty who are all very knowledgeable and well versed in their respective fields. I must add that I did my fall semester remotely, and I was impressed with the level of support from both students and faculty, and that for me stands out very remarkably at UNC.
Can you tell us about your role as a Rotary Peace Fellow?
As a Rotary Peace Fellow, I am challenged to use my Global Health qualification to advance goodwill and better friendships throughout the world; to always serve my species selflessly and to aspire towards peacefulness where conflict arises, always. I accept speaking engagements at no cost at Rotary Clubs throughout the world. Through a rigorous but flexible peace curriculum, fellows are imbued with the necessary skills and tools to promote peacebuilding and conflict resolution. I take this opportunity to invite you to our 19th Annual Rotary Peace Conference on April 9, 2022.
What does “global health” mean to you?
Global Health mean equity to me. Global Health mean Universal Healthcare Coverage. It means everything between policy and practice that improves health outcomes for all people throughout the world.
What drew you to the Gillings School of Global Public Health?
GRE! The Graduate Record Exams is a barrier to many African scholars in reaching their highest possible potentials. Not because we may not be able to pass the exams, but because the exam is expensive in monetary terms for many of us, and second, it is not readily available in the developing world. So, when Gillings announced in 2020 that they would not require GRE for their MPH, I said this is it. And lo, I am here. But even before that, I had always loved to study in the number one public university of Public Health in the United States. See, in 2010, I took a free Coursera course in Epidemiology taught by UNC Gillings’ Professor Karin Yeatts and that initially inflamed by passion about coming to Gillings.
What is your dream job?
Frankly, I don’t know! I am open to anything Global Health insofar as the role helps to improve the health and wellbeing of people in the developing world. With emphasis on the developing world.
What is your favorite part of the day (morning, afternoon, evening, night)?
I am an owl. No justifications! 🙂