September 14, 2023
This fall, Lusajo Kajula, PhD, Tanzanian international scholar in health behavior and psychology for adolescents and families, has joined the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health as the school’s first Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence.
In her role, Kajula will use her experiences in global health to educate students on an “ecological model,” which helps public health experts make sense of the social, political and individual factors that influence health behaviors. She will also continue her work in adolescent and reproductive health while collaborating with the Durham County Health Department on ways to engage local communities in public health programs and outreach.
“Moving public health to global health means understanding that we are all the same,” Kajula said. “The goal, whether through teaching or community engagement, is to help people think globally. You don’t always have to start something afresh if somebody else has done it already – you can adapt it to fit your needs.”
Her work at Carolina is also the extension of a decades-long partnership and friendship with Suzanne Maman, PhD, professor of health behavior and associate dean for global health at the Gillings School. The two first began working together on HIV prevention research in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1999. Their collaborations have produced funded research and intervention programs on global health topics that include treatment and prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, intimate partner violence prevention, and adolescent reproductive health – all centralized around regions in Eastern Africa.
“I am thrilled that my friend and colleague, Dr. Lusajo Kajula, is with us on faculty at Gillings for this academic year,” Maman said. “She brings a tremendous amount of experience conducting impactful global mental health research and practice to our school. I am looking forward to the many ways that she will enrich our training, research and practice while she is with us this year and beyond.”
Kajula’s path to public health has taken her through four continents. She grew up in Tanzania with childhood aspirations to become a radio broadcaster. After being discouraged on that path, she followed her interest in the sciences, entered an undergraduate program in psychology in India and then applied to a clinical psychology master’s program at the University of Manchester after graduation. While her application was pending, she moved to England and volunteered with a British psychologist, researching the incidence of female genital mutilation among Somali immigrants in the United Kingdom.
Ultimately, Kajula was unable to enter the program in Manchester because it did not admit students who were not from the European Union, but the sudden pivot in her plans led her back to Tanzania, to the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), where she got the opportunity to work as Maman’s research assistant. From there, a friendship bloomed that has been sustained through the arc of both women’s careers.
Kajula eventually went to Bergen, Norway, to finish her master’s degrees, where she focused her research at the intersection of reproductive health and adolescent psychology. She then went to Maastricht in the Netherlands for her doctoral degree in health behavior while continuing with her work as an academic and therapist at MUHAS. Her experiences abroad, both academic and personal, have given her a unique perspective on the ways that health can unite people across cultures, especially when it comes to the social norms and stigmas that prevent parents from having conversations about sexual and reproductive health with their children.
“When I did my master’s, I had friends from Bulgaria, Norway, Germany and Venezuela – none of us had been told anything about puberty or sexual health by our parents,” she recalled. “Even my professor, who was Norwegian, had been too shy to have the conversation with his children. So, it made me wonder: How many families, how many communities are facing similar issues?”
As the Gillings School’s Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence, she will now be bringing that global perspective to North Carolina.
The Fulbright Program is the United States government’s flagship international academic exchange program and is supported by the people of the U.S. and partner countries around the world. Participating governments and home and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the Program, which operates in over 160 countries worldwide.
The Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Program brings visiting scholars from abroad to U.S. colleges and universities, helping the institutions internationalize their curricula, campuses and surrounding communities, and diversify the educational experiences of their students, faculty, staff and stakeholders. Kajula is one of more than 45 Fulbright Scholars-in-Residence and among 1,000 outstanding foreign faculty and professionals who will teach and pursue research in the U.S. for the 2023-2024 academic year through the worldwide Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program.
Kajula has made several previous trips to UNC over the years while collaborating with Maman. She also continues to work as a consultant for international governments and organizations like UNICEF, evaluating research and interventions for sexual health and gender for young adolescents.
“For me, public health means understanding how you can move from personal to many. How can we shift our personal perspective to that of others?” she said. “I think COVID-19 has taught us a very good lesson. We are really all just human. We are more similar than we are different.”
For further information about the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State, please visit https://fulbrightprogram.org or contact the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Press Office by e-mail: ECA-Press@state.gov.
Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.