Thriving in Africa’s Public Health Sector: The Necessity of Versatility and Cross-Disciplinary Expertise
The landscape of public health in Africa is marked by an intricate web of challenges, ranging from traditional infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria to emerging non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and hypertension. Amidst these complexities, the need for public health consultants who possess cross-disciplinary knowledge, versatility, and a high level of skill becomes paramount. These multidimensional professionals are instrumental in conceptualizing, strategizing, and implementing robust public health solutions that address the unique health landscape of Africa.
Having worked in various sectors, including government, the military, civil society, academia and diverse consulting opportunities in public health and monitoring and evaluation across Africa, I have come to appreciate the value of having a rich and diverse background when it comes to public health consulting in Africa. The knowledge, skills and cross-disciplinary expertise I have encountered allow me to approach the work with a deeper understanding of it from multiple angles, having understood the complexities of the public health challenges Africa faces. I would like to share some tips based on this experience spanning over two decades.
The Cross-Disciplinary Expertise Imperative
Africa’s public health challenges are multifaceted, deeply rooted in socio-economic structures, and have cultural implications. They are not merely biological or medical issues but involve complex socio-political and economic dynamics. Therefore, the task of public health consultants extends beyond the sphere of medical knowledge. They must possess expertise across various disciplines such as epidemiology, health economics, policy development, sociology, and anthropology.
In the fight against HIV/AIDS, for instance, public health consultants should not only focus on medical interventions but also appreciate and address the socio-economic and cultural factors influencing the disease’s prevalence and impact. The growing burden of NCDs, too, demands an approach that transcends biomedical understanding, requiring insights into lifestyle factors and emphasizing health promotion and prevention. Therefore, public health consultants must be able to integrate various disciplines into a comprehensive and effective strategy, underscoring the immense need for cross-disciplinary knowledge.
The Versatility Factor
The heterogeneity of public health challenges in Africa mandates a high degree of versatility in public health consultants. These professionals must navigate different scenarios, each with its unique demands, adapt to diverse contexts, and develop tailored approaches. A versatile public health consultant can transition from strategizing for disease prevention, to planning for healthcare infrastructure improvement, to advocating for policy changes, all while considering the unique socio-cultural fabric of the region. This ability to adapt to and address the diverse health needs of the continent underscores the critical need for versatility.
The Skill Necessity
Alongside cross-disciplinary expertise and versatility, the effectiveness of public health consultants hinges on their skill set. They must exhibit proficiency in analyzing intricate health data, designing and evaluating health interventions, and influencing health policy and systems. They should possess leadership and communication skills to drive change and advocate for improved health outcomes effectively. The ability to translate their cross-disciplinary knowledge and versatile approach into actionable strategies signifies the importance of skill in their profession.
The pictures I share here, for example, are from the recent launch of the Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI) Strategic Plan and Strategic Partnership Plan. I was contracted by USAID (through the Global Health Technical Assistance and Mission Support Project, GH-TAMS) to work with ZNPHI over several months as Covid-19 M&E Data Specialist. However, when the opportunity to assist with conceptualizing the Partnership Forum came up I relished it. I had worked on partnerships in my evaluation work with Gavi, doing partnership mapping and tracking, and even published a paper on how well partnerships were working within the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) in Zambia. In my civil society work earlier I had coordinated several partners on some projects and been a partner on others. So it was not beyond my depth and I felt I could add value to what was happening. Flexibility and versatility can be a great asset.
In a nutshell
In the face of Africa’s complex and multifaceted public health challenges, the demand for public health consultants with cross-disciplinary expertise, versatility, and high-level skills is more pronounced than ever. Their unique capability to weave together different areas of knowledge, adapt to varying contexts, and apply their skills effectively is integral to addressing Africa’s health challenges. This investment in public health consultants is a vital step towards not only addressing the immediate health needs of the continent but also towards building resilient health systems that can weather future health crises.
If you’ve ever wondered what university lecturers discuss behind closed (chat) doors, it’s not just about who’s bringing the cookies to the next faculty meeting. Recently, our group chat lit up with a fiery debate about AI in the classroom. One lecturer, apparently in a bid to preserve the sanctity of essay questions, proudly announced giving zero marks to any student who dared to enlist AI’s help.
Another took a different approach, sidestepping essays altogether in favor of MCQs – because, obviously, AI couldn’t possibly lend a hand there. That was until I chimed in with a cheeky update about AI’s newfound ability to read images and transmute them into text. Let’s just say the chatroom exploded faster than a shaken soda can.
One flabbergasted colleague even dramatically exclaimed, “AI should be banned!” With the chat’s emotions running higher than caffeine levels during exam week, I felt compelled to dive deeper into the topic, and hence, this article was born.The onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterized by artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automation, has begun reshaping sectors globally and among the sectors feeling the ripples of this technological tidal wave, education stands at a significant crossroads.
The Rise and Rise of AI
As AI’s capabilities expand, from machine-driven customer support to self-driving cars, the line between tasks performed by humans and those by machines becomes blurrier. The fear isn’t unfounded. After all, when you have a technology that’s making breakthroughs at breakneck speed, it’s easy for the imagination to run wild. But instead of imagining a world where educators are replaced by machines, we should envision one where they’re empowered by them.
Education’s Evolution: From Passive to Active Learning
Traditional learning paradigms, rooted in rote memorization and passive information absorption, are increasingly becoming obsolete. Today’s students are digital natives. They’ve grown up with the world’s knowledge at their fingertips, literally. The value of education, then, isn’t just about imparting information, but about teaching students how to discern, analyze, and apply it.
And this is where AI comes into play. By automating routine tasks, educators have more time to engage in interactive sessions, debates, and project-based learning — methods that hone a student’s analytical and application skills. It’s about making learning an active, immersive experience, and AI can be the tool that facilitates this.
The Fear of the Unknown: Busting Myths about AI
One common misconception is that AI is infallible — a monolithic entity that knows all. In reality, AI is as good as the data it’s trained on and the algorithms that power it. It’s not about replacing human judgment but augmenting it. The students using AI for their essays? They’re not “cheating” but utilizing a resource. The challenge, then, is for educators to adapt their assessment methods to evaluate understanding and original thought over mere regurgitation.
A Forward-Thinking Curriculum: Preparing for Tomorrow
Universities must take a proactive stance. Integrating AI literacy into the curriculum ensures students are not just passive consumers but active participants in the AI-driven world of tomorrow. Beyond just using AI tools, students should be encouraged to understand their workings, question their ethics, and ponder their societal implications.
Change is the only constant, and in the face of the AI revolution, resistance is not just futile but counterproductive. Embracing AI can unlock unprecedented avenues in education, creating more engaged learners and dynamic educators. After all, if our group chat debate has shown anything, it’s that the future of AI in education promises to be anything but boring. We must all lean into the curve, adapt, and ensure that we are driving the change rather than being driven by it.
As a public health consultant in Africa, your CV is an essential tool for showcasing your skills and experience to potential clients and employers. A well-structured CV can make all the difference in landing new opportunities and advancing your career in this challenging field. Here are some tips for structuring your CV as a public health consultant in Africa:
- Start with a summary statement
Your CV should start with a summary statement that highlights your key qualifications and experience. This should be a brief, one or two sentence summary that gives potential employers an idea of what you can bring to the table.
- Highlight your key skills
Public health consulting requires a range of skills, from data analysis and research to stakeholder engagement and capacity building. Make sure your CV highlights your key skills and areas of expertise, as well as any relevant certifications or qualifications.
- Include relevant experience
Your CV should include details of your relevant work experience, including the projects you have worked on, the outcomes you achieved, and your specific responsibilities. Make sure to focus on your experience in public health consulting, and highlight any projects that demonstrate your expertise in the field.
- Provide evidence of your impact
Potential employers and clients want to see evidence of the impact you have made in your previous work. Make sure to include details of any measurable outcomes you achieved, such as improvements in health outcomes or cost savings for clients.
- Include your research and publishing experience
Public health consultants are often expected to have a strong research background and publishing experience. If you have conducted research or have publications in relevant public health journals, make sure to highlight these in your CV.
- Have good and relevant references
Having strong references can help to strengthen your CV and demonstrate your credibility to potential employers and clients. Make sure to include references from individuals who can speak to your skills and experience in public health consulting.
- Tailor your CV to the job
When applying for a specific job or project, make sure to tailor your CV to the requirements of the position. Highlight the skills and experience that are most relevant to the job, and provide evidence of your ability to deliver on the specific requirements of the role.
- Use bullet points
Bullet points can help to break up your CV and make it easier to read. Use bullet points to highlight your key responsibilities and achievements, and to emphasize your most relevant experience.
- Use a clear and concise format
Your CV should be easy to read and follow. Use a clear and concise format, and avoid using fancy fonts or graphics that can be distracting. Make sure to proofread your CV for errors and typos, and keep it to no more than two pages.
- Always keep your CV up to date
Public health consulting is a dynamic field, and your CV should reflect your most recent skills and experience. Make sure to update your CV regularly to ensure that it accurately reflects your qualifications and achievements.
In conclusion, structuring your CV as a public health consultant in Africa requires highlighting your key skills and experience, providing evidence of your impact, including research and publishing experience, having good and relevant references, tailoring your CV to the job, using bullet points, using a clear and concise format, and always keeping your CV up to date. By following these tips, you can create a CV that showcases your expertise and helps you stand out in this competitive field.
m y previous article I outlined some strategies that can help you to be successful as a public health consultant in Africa. In this follow-up article I point out some key pitfalls to avoid.
Public health consulting in Africa is a challenging field that requires consultants to navigate complex social, cultural, and economic factors that affect health outcomes in different communities. While there are many strategies that can help consultants succeed in this field, there are also certain pitfalls to avoid. Here are 12 things to avoid as a public health consultant in Africa:
- Not delivering on time and taking on work that is beyond your exepertise
Meeting deadlines is critical in any consulting work. Failure to deliver on time can result in missed opportunities, loss of credibility, and damage to relationships with stakeholders. I have often been tasked to take on work because a previous consultant failed to deliver on the work or they have taken too long to deliver on it. This often arises at times by taking on work which may be beyond your level of knowledge and expertise. It is okay to not take on work that you are not well-qualified for.
- Using a one-size-fits-all approach
Using a single approach to address complex public health challenges can be ineffective or even harmful. It is essential to tailor interventions to the local context and to take into account the unique needs and challenges of different communities.
- Not being conversant with the local context
Public health consultants who are not conversant with the local context risk developing interventions that are not well-suited to the needs of the community. It is essential to understand the social, cultural, and economic factors that affect health outcomes in different communities.
- Not getting buy-in
Building strong relationships with stakeholders and gaining their buy-in is critical for the success of any public health intervention. Failure to do so can result in interventions that are not well-supported by the community, which can undermine the effectiveness of the intervention. As a consultant you are often only there for a short period of time and it is these stakeholders who will make use of your input and carry the work forward so it is critical to engage them throughout the process and get their buy-in.
- Inadequate engagement of key stakeholders
Engaging key stakeholders is essential for successful public health interventions. It is important to work closely with local healthcare providers, community leaders, and non-governmental organizations to build their capacity to work towards better health outcomes.
- Not looking for and involving expertise you do not have yourself
Public health challenges in Africa can be complex and multifaceted, and may require expertise that the consultant does not possess. It is important to involve other experts and stakeholders who can contribute to the development of effective interventions.
- Shoddy writing
It does not matter how technically proficient you are, if you cannot express your thoughts well in writing you will not succeed in consulting work. Poor writing can undermine the credibility of a public health consultant and their work. It is important to invest time and effort in developing clear, concise, and well-written reports and other documents. Invest in improving your writing skills.
- Spreading your efforts too thin and taking on too many jobs at once
Taking on too many jobs at once can lead to burnout, decreased quality of work, and missed deadlines. It is important to manage your workload effectively and to prioritize your assignments.
- Not building a team
Building a team can be critical to the success of public health interventions. It is important to identify and recruit team members with diverse skills and expertise, and to work collaboratively towards common goals.
- Over-pricing yourself
Over-pricing can lead to missed opportunities and damage to relationships with stakeholders. It is important to price your services competitively and to be transparent about your pricing structure. Check what other consultants charge for similar services in your setting.
- Underpricing yourself
Under-pricing can lead to financial difficulties and can undermine the perceived value of your work. It is important to price your services appropriately, taking into account your skills, expertise, and the level of effort required for each assignment. Under-pricing can also put pressure on you to take on more work, which will be detrimental to the quality of your work.
- Not building in enough time to do the assignment well
Public health interventions can be complex and time-consuming. It is important to build in enough time to conduct thorough research, analyze data, and develop effective interventions. Be open to negotiate the timing of deliverables with your hiring organization and advise on realistic timelines that will enable you to do a good job.
In conclusion, to be a successful public health consultant in Africa, it is important to avoid these 12 pitfalls. By delivering on time, tailoring interventions to the local context, building strong relationships with stakeholders, engaging key stakeholders, involving diverse expertise, investing in clear and effective writing, managing workload effectively, building a team, pricing services appropriately, and building in enough time to do the assignment well, public health consultants can have a huge impact.
As a public health consultant, I get a lot of requests on how to be successful in this industry and deliver value. This article is a summary of some of teh key lessons I have learned over the years, working in Public Health in most regions of Africa.
Public health consulting is an important aspect of healthcare in Africa. Public health consultants work with government agencies, healthcare organizations, and other stakeholders to improve the health outcomes of communities across the continent. As a public health consultant in Africa, there are certain skills and strategies that can help you succeed in this field.
- Develop a deep understanding of the local context
To be a successful public health consultant in Africa, it is important to have a deep understanding of the local context. This includes understanding the social, economic, and cultural factors that affect health outcomes in different communities. It also means understanding the local health system, including its strengths and weaknesses, as well as the resources that are available. What work in the West may not be as successful in Africa, due to many contextual factors which differ from region to region and from country to country.
- Build strong relationships with stakeholders
As a public health consultant, you will be working with a wide range of stakeholders, including government agencies, healthcare providers, community leaders, and non-governmental organizations. Building strong relationships with these stakeholders is key to success in this field. This means developing trust, being responsive to their needs, and communicating effectively. Delivering on time is another key aspect of building such relationships.
- Use evidence-based approaches
Public health consulting in Africa requires a strong focus on evidence-based approaches. This means using data and research to inform decisions, and developing interventions that have been proven to be effective in similar settings. It also means staying up-to-date with the latest research and trends in public health. You thus need to be widely read and up to speed in your area of expertise.
- Be flexible and adaptable
Public health challenges in Africa can be complex and multifaceted, and they often require a flexible and adaptable approach. This means being willing to change course when needed, and being open to new ideas and perspectives. It also means being able to work effectively in a range of different settings and contexts.
- Collaborate with local partners
Collaborating with local partners is essential for success as a public health consultant in Africa. This includes working closely with local healthcare providers, community leaders, and non-governmental organizations. It also means building capacity among local partners, so that they can continue to work towards better health outcomes even after you have moved on to other projects.
- Communicate effectively
Effective communication is essential for success as a public health consultant in Africa. This means being able to communicate complex ideas and data to a range of stakeholders, including those who may not have a strong background in public health. It also means being able to communicate effectively across cultures and languages.
- Stay committed to the mission
Finally, to be a successful public health consultant in Africa, it is essential to stay committed to the mission of improving health outcomes for communities across the continent. This means being willing to work tirelessly, even in challenging circumstances, and being motivated by the knowledge that your work is making a real difference in people’s lives.
In conclusion, being a successful public health consultant in Africa requires a deep understanding of the local context, strong relationships with stakeholders, evidence-based approaches, flexibility and adaptability, collaboration with local partners, effective communication, and a commitment to the mission. By focusing on these key areas, public health consultants in Africa can make a significant impact on the health outcomes of communities across the continent.