Ann Njogu is Chairperson of the Amref International University (AMIU) Student Council in Nairobi, Kenya where she is in her final year of the degree program in Health Systems Management & Development. Through Ann’s leadership, the Student Council has set up and run COVID-19 vaccine clinics in an area of Nairobi, called Kibra, where poverty rates are very high and access to vaccines has been limited.
Amref Health Africa in Canada spoke to Ann to find out more about her, Amref International University, and the COVID-19 vaccination clinics AMIU students have been conducting. Here’s our interview with Ann:
Amref: Tell us about your studies at Amref International University. What are you studying? Why did you choose that particular program of study?
Ann: “I am taking a degree program in Health Systems Management & Development. I’ve been at AMIU for three calendar years and I’m in my fourth academic year. I will be finishing my program in August 2022.
Why am I studying this program? Between 2009 and 2014, I worked as an administrator for a pharmaceutical company. My roles involved interaction with customers at different levels. During that time, one of our customers – a man in his 60s – got diagnosed with prostate cancer. His doctor put him on a particular medication long term. It is an expensive tablet. At that time in the Kenyan market, it was going for about $6 [USD] per tablet. When the man was put on this tablet, I remember his face because he could not afford it. And, the sad part for me was that the doctor did not take the patient through the fact that he would need to take the medication long term. When the patient first started taking the medication, he managed to find the money to pay for the tablets; he thought it would only be for a short time that he would need to take the medication to get better. That last day I saw the customer when he got a prescription for six months, he sat down because he couldn’t afford it. He didn’t buy the medicine and we never saw him again. In the back of my mind, I have always wondered: ‘What happened to this man? Is he alive?’
That’s the time when my passion for health care was really born. I thought that there has to be a better way to do this. So, health systems management, for me, was right. It felt right because health systems management is about how we finance health care, how we organize health care, how we deliver health care services to the people. The goal of health care services is to defend the people against ill health, and most importantly, to protect them from the financial consequences of ill health. Now, most of us in Africa know that this is a dire need. Our people are suffering because of the high costs of ill health and poor delivery even when certain services are available. That’s the background why I chose health systems management.”
Amref: Why did you choose Amref International University for your education?
Ann: “I have to admit that when I started looking for a university, I didn’t even know that Amref had a university. I was looking for more than a classroom experience. You and I agree that in this time and age, you can access notes and lessons on the Internet. I was looking for more than that. I was looking for a place where I can get what I would call competency-based training. When I came across Amref International University, there was no thinking twice about it. I knew about Amref, I knew about their work and so I thought that as a student this is the perfect place because I think there will be opportunities for me and other students to plug into Amref’s internship programs, or to go in the field and see how work is done. That’s why I chose AMIU.”
Amref: Why did you decide to run for the role of Chairperson of the AMIU Student Council?
Ann: “When you join AMIU, there’s one thing that stands out: it is very leadership-focused. I’m not talking about titles, or positions but rather leadership as a function. Even in the trainings in the classroom there is this emphasis on leadership. With time, as a student, it changes your perspective because you are in this environment where you are being trained to be a leader, to influence change. Students are taught to be part of identifying solutions. When the student council elections came up, I saw a platform where I could influence change in a number of areas in the AMIU student experience. I thought that if I could go for the Chair position, why not? And, that’s what I did.”
Amref: What are some challenges that AMIU students have been facing during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ann: “First, we have to give props to the University. AMIU was among the first universities to transition immediately to online platforms, 100%. What that meant for us as the students is that we didn’t have any lost time. Our semesters continued seamlessly. However, being 100% online also presented some challenges. Some students did not have access to affordable and reliable broadband. We also have students who didn’t have laptops or smartphones. Those were really challenging in the early stages of COVID-19 when everything was 100% online. We also had some students where the home environment was not very conducive to learning because there may be many distractions.
We cannot talk about COVID-19 without talking about the social and mental impact that it had. Many of the students felt disconnected, like they were getting depressed. Immediately after I got into office, we did a webinar for International Youth Day on the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of the youth in Kenya. We had AMIU students and faculty members on the panel. Our students said they had experienced the mental health effects of COVID-19.”