Centre for Global Development

Francis Attah

attah-francis-webMaster of Public Health (International) (MPH (I)), 2010-2011

Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development, Leeds Institute of Health Sciences

What were you doing before you applied to your chosen programme?

Before I arrived in England on that typically English late September evening, I was a health system strengthening officer in my country Nigeria, on a United States Government funded aid program. Those two facts; my job and who was paying for it succinctly capture the dynamics at the heart of the development question in my country, as is true of the rest of Africa and much of the developing world.

My job spoke to the appalling weakness of our health system, and the fact that too often, it fails a too numerous segment of our population, undermining peoples’ basic development aspiration and reinforcing a festering poverty.  And secondly that such an effort is being bankrolled by donor fund demonstrates an apparent incapacity of our development institutions; the government and its agencies to respond to that basic governmental responsibility.

Why did you apply to the programme?

I had been spoiled for choice with admission offers from about five UK universities. A painstaking review of their programmes led me eventually to the Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development (NCIHD), a part of the Leeds Institute of Health Sciences.  It had a long history of research and teaching in international public health, with particular focus on the resource constrained environment of the developing world.

It had something else unlike the other universities: a chance to practically experience how international health development agencies work; craft agendas, advocate them and mobilise the global development community behind them, through a weeklong study tour of the WHO, the UN, Red cross, Medicines sans frontiers, international hospitals group and UNHCR, all in Geneva, Switzerland.

Thirdly, as a self-funding student, I was interested in which school stood to deliver the most learning value at the least cost and with the promise of a truly friendly, chic and humane modern city. With hindsight now, with my studies behind me, it was all that and lot more I found out. If I had to do this now, I wouldn’t have had to think hard about choosing Leeds for my post graduate studies in the United Kingdom.

What are some of your best memories from study at Leeds?

The teaching and support staff at Nuffield are so supportive and friendly, and espouse a sense of camaraderie they make you feel you are an equal and at home. It was so different from both my undergraduate and post graduate experiences back home. And the learning and research infrastructure here is so robust, it is peerless; from the great libraries to the VLE. It turned out there is a particular attraction for Leeds from around the world, as my class had an unbelievably rich diversity, of people of all races and hue from around the world so much you are guaranteed a truly global experience, we had to call it “our little united Nations”.

And so my joy was boundless in having an opportunity for friendship of people so diverse and different, having to connect with them and share experiences and stories. In the end I came off with the conclusions that we might all really look different but we all hold comes dreams and aspirations, of a better world run on a contract of social justice for all. Even if your socioeconomic convictions are of a different shade, you can’t possibly conclude studies at NCIHD without an appreciation of the essence of equity and social justice as a development necessity. I’m more of a development activist now, thanks to my experience at Leeds University.

What distinctive skills did you learn from studying at Leeds?

Any study around the subject of public health will definitely revolve around honing your skills around the basic principles of epidemiology, disease mapping/surveillance, statistical tools, public health research and interventions. But at NCIHD, it’s a lot more than that, it’s an integration of classroom experience and practical experience of those who have been on the frontline of public health research and interventions, preparing you for a real world experience.

The teaching, beyond being values driven around equity and social justice, prepares you as a leader, resource manager, mobiliser, with the capacity to make choices off a set of intervening variables. I have always been a measured, opinionated, outspoken person, with strong convictions about how the world around me should run, but after Leeds and numerous hands-on class group works, presentations, I feel sufficiently capacitated for the job ahead! As a development advocate around public health causes.

What are your future plans? Do you think your degree help you to achieve these?

Convinced that the health of a people remain a central development issue for all people but most especially the deprived and vulnerable people of our world, and my country being a big pool of such class, my dream is to return to my country at the end of my studies, armed with what I have learnt at Nuffield to be a change agent for those deprived communities. And for sure to properly articulate their interest on the development agenda in a manner that can capture attention, I’m going to need the authority of Leeds’ world famous MPH and the remarkable insight it now affords me!

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