12 Common Mistakes to Avoid as a Public Health Consultant in Africa

Dr Moses Simuyemba leading an inception meeting to get stakeholder input and buy-in at the beginning of an assignment, Botswana

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.