School of Public Health
Private Sector Malaria Prevention Project
Malaria contributes heavily to the burden of disease in Ghana and Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLIN) represent the primary vector-control intervention used for large-scale malaria prevention. Currently LLIN are distributed through public sector channels, however effective engagement of the private sector in LLIN sales and distribution is a crucial step towards ensuring sustainability of this life-saving intervention.
The Private Sector Malaria Prevention Project (PSMP) is a two-year project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and implemented by Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP). The project is designed to increase commercial sector distribution of LLINs through market channels.
The goals of the project are to design and implement a workplace/employer-based subsidized LLIN distribution program, to design and pilot-test an activity to increase commercial sector distribution of LLINs through market channels, and to design and implement an advocacy campaign to promote greater and more substantive engagement of the private sector in LLIN distribution.
Global Health Mentor/PI: April Monroe | Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP)
When I first learned the state of my project upon arrival – that we had only recently gained final approval from our funder and that the project had not yet started up – I was surprised and disheartened. The project had been in the works for so long, and I assumed that there were activities happening in Ghana that I didn’t learn about when conversing with the Baltimore-based team.
After two weeks of teamwork and joint brainstorming with the Baltimore team in Ghana during my first few weeks, the inception-phase deliverables were turned in and work planning was complete. We then waited and waited on our funder while there was virtually no movement on the program (and no staff!). I found that every week, there was a good sign of progress that meant there might be some work to do soon, but it still meant I was fighting to come up with things to do until that moment came.
The implementation timeline we created during my first few weeks in Ghana informed me that there were parts of the project I was excited about that were definitively not going to occur until after I left. Additionally, some of the other interesting work I had expected and hoped to be involved in was being contracted out. One of the main reasons I decided on this practicum was that I was very interested in social marketing and the intersection of business and global health; I had wanted to be part of conducting a market analysis and understanding how the results were used. While the implementation plan was originally a source of frustration for me, it was also a starting point for re-orienting myself and re-assessing what my practicum goals would be. My careful perusal of it led to me brainstorming ways I could contribute that were not part of my original plan.
Although I had not anticipated project management during the inception phase to be part of my experience in Ghana, in many ways that was naïve, and I am very grateful to have gone through this process. I have always been interested in global health programming, and this was a necessary next step to take both in terms of making myself marketable for future positions but also in terms of really understanding how a project comes together and why the decisions to take on certain activities are made. Being a part of these discussions helped me understand the expertise and invaluable local knowledge of the Country Director and Chief of Party, and how critical their insights are for designing relevant programs in developing countries. Without their on-the-ground knowledge of national health systems, influential players, and the Ghana-specific malaria landscape, the project strategies would have looked a lot more generic and less evolved.
A month and a half after I arrived, the Program Officers joined and the project really started to move faster. I am so grateful that my time spent building rapport with colleagues, contributing to smaller tasks wherever possible, and learning the components of the project like the back of my hand led to immediate integration and respect from the Program Officers. The relationships I had formed with others in the office had blossomed, and I was able to relate to the new staff (those with whom I would end up working most closely) better than I initially had with others when I first arrived. I had come a long way in terms of understanding local work and other customs, mastering (or trying my best to master) phrases in Twi that mostly made my colleagues laugh, and gleefully taking part in the inordinately spicy local foods for lunch every day with my colleagues. Throughout the remaining two months, we had excellent and open working relationships, made swift progress, shared plenty of laughs, and we were constantly learning from and teaching one another.
Of course, finally getting out to the field and holding meetings to convince medium and large employers to take on workplace-based LLIN (long-lasting insecticidal net) distribution programs for malaria prevention was a highlight. It is laughable how little I could imagine the needs and concerns of companies in Ghana outside of the Greater Accra region. While Accra has financial services, consumer goods, telecommunications, hospitality, food and beverage, and other types of companies that were familiar to me, I really had no idea what I was getting into in terms of the mining and agriculture industry in the rural areas of Ashanti and Western regions. Without going into the field and meeting with all types of companies, understanding their individual challenges, and physically seeing their work environments, I realize now how my lack of familiarity led me to preconceived notions based on my prior, but less relevant experiences. I was skeptical about the capability or interest of some companies in potentially taking on institutional LLIN buying programs, but it was amazing to see firsthand how much untapped potential there is within some of these companies that are greatly affected by malaria.
The lessons I learned in Ghana came in many forms, both work-related and not. It is unsurprising that by the time I left, I knew that learning to work in new settings with new people was an invigorating challenge that I not only enjoy but feel is a necessary part of this work.