Gillum, Claire

Tanzania

VectorWorks, Tanzania

VectorWorks, a USAID-funded project, works with the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) in Tanzania and other stakeholders to increase access to and availability of LLIN, as well as to increase interest in and use of LLINs.  The overall objectives include increasing household ownership of nets, increase use of nets among children under five years and increase use of nets among pregnant women. VectorWorks supports Tanzania's LLIN continuous distribution strategy including ANC, targeting pregnant women at their first ANC visit, EPI, targeting children receiving their measles 2 vaccination and primary schools, targeting children in primary classes. Along with providing strategy and distribution support and monitoring this project focuses on capacity building for the National Malaria Control Program. The Tanzania program will focus on school based distribution strategies, monitoring and evaluation. 

Global Health Mentors and Supporting Faculty: Gabrielle Hunter, Andrea Brown and David Dadi

One of my primary reasons for choosing to come to Hopkins for my graduate degree in public health was the fact that I knew I would be offered opportunities to get hands-on experience in the field. For me, such an opportunity came in the form of a Center for Global Health Established Field Placement (CGHEFP), through which I was partnered with the VectorWorks program within the JHU Center for Communication Programs (CCP). Having just finished the first year of my MSPH program, I was looking forward to spending several months in Tanzania working with VectorWorks to implement a school-based long-lasting insecticidal net (LLIN) distribution program, and to put some of the skills I had learnt over the course of the past year to use.

I had spent time working in developing countries before, but never anywhere that I didn’t speak the dominant language. Therefore, arriving late in the evening to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the middle of Ramadan, just as the city was gathering to break the fast, and suddenly being surrounded by people speaking Kiswahili far more rapidly than anyone I had heard on my audio tutorials, was both an exciting and slightly unnerving experience! However, the CCP staff in Dar es Salaam were incredibly welcoming and worked hard to help me adjust to the new setting, as well as providing daily Kiswahili vocabulary lessons whenever they passed by my office. Although at first I was embarrassed to be so limited in my ability to communicate, and to be pronouncing almost everything incorrectly, I found that by spending time to learn simple words and phrases and to show my interest in the local language and culture, I made strong connections and began to understand more about the community I was living and working in.

Through my project I was also fortunate to be exposed to different regions of Tanzania. Although I was based in the main CCP office in Dar es Salaam, the project was being implemented several hundred kilometers south in the regions of Lindi, Mtwara and Ruvuma. While Dar es Salaam is a rapidly developing, urban center with an extremely diverse population of both native Tanzanians and expats from around the world, the project regions were largely rural with challenging geography, limited infrastructure and a severe lack of health facilities. Therefore, spending time in each of these areas helped me to better understand the challenges being faced by the populations we were working with; although malaria was a significant problem, so too was malnutrition, diarrheal disease, HIV/AIDS, and a whole host of non-health related issues. Appreciating that our project was just addressing one component in the long list of challenges facing these communities was sometimes disheartening. Yet, it also reaffirmed my desire to base my career in this field in the knowledge that many of these problems are interlinked and that finding effective solutions to such problems can make a significant difference both at the individual and community level.

When I wasn’t travelling long distances over rough roads to conduct data validation or supervision of net distribution in our project regions, I was fortunate to spend most of my time in Dar es Salaam where I, along with another Hopkins CGHEFP recipient, managed to explore some of what the city has to offer. This mostly involved enjoying the many varied places to eat throughout the city but also included taking a bike tour through some of the more off-the-beaten path areas of Dar and a boat trip to a nearby marine reserve. Also, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to take a weekend trip to nearby Zanzibar to escape some of the hustle and bustle of Dar es Salaam and experience the world-renowned beautiful landscape and history of the island. To be able to go from being in the office running training sessions for the program’s procedural audit to sitting on a pristine beach watching the local fishermen bring in the catch of the day in less than a few hours was truly remarkable.

To finish, my CGHEFP experience was extremely rewarding both professionally and personally. Not only did I have the opportunity to gain experience working on a whole range of project activities, gaining new skills and reinforcing old ones, I also made great connections and learnt about a country I’d never visited before. I am now continuing to work on the project from Baltimore and am excited to see how it progresses, especially now that I better understand the reality on the ground and have an appreciation for the impact the project can have if it is implemented successfully.

Photographs:

1. Claire Gillum with children who have just received their LLINs as part of the School Net Program, implemented by VectorWorks – taken during supervision of LLIN distribution.

2. Members of the CCP team point out a project BCC poster in a school in Mtwara Region  - taken during a visit to a project school as part of data validation activities.

3. A child signs his name on the issuing book to record that he has received his LLIN – taken during supervision of LLIN distribution.

4. Weekend travel included a relaxing trip to Nungwi Beach on Zanzibar.

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