MPH student turns trip home to Nigeria into internship opportunity

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As a native Nigerian, giving back to her country has always been a top priority for Mariam Badru, a second-year MPH student at the USF College of Public Health (COPH) who is concentrating in maternal and child health. So on a recent visit back home to Nigeria’s Lagos State, Badru sought out a state ministry of health internship.

“Overall, it was an amazing experience,” she said.

Badru worked in the state epidemiologist’s office, helping to track and investigate health threats across the state and activate appropriate disease surveillance, monitoring and response systems as needed. She was part of a team that responded to a major gastroenteritis outbreak, collecting data on possible and confirmed cases. She also worked with the State Ministry of Health and World Health Organization (WHO) officials on the National Polio Eradication Certification Nigeria program.

Mariam Badru, third from left, visits the palace of the community king (center, in green) in Lagos State to enlist his and his chiefs’ support for a Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) intervention. (Photo courtesy of Badru)

“Although Nigeria has been declared polio-free since 2016, my team continued to strategize on ways to enhance the surveillance and monitoring systems for future polio eradication certifications,” Badru reported.

For the three-month duration of her internship, Badru not only received training—she gave it, too.

“As another aspect of the internship, I had the opportunity to serve as a health officer for the state-wide intervention for the control of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs),” Badru explained. “I worked with WHO and nongovernmental organizations to conduct mass administration of treatment for the prevention and control of schistosomiasis [a disease caused by parasitic worms] and soil-transmitted helminthiasis [intestinal worms that are transmitted through contaminated soil] in the state, which, at the time, were endemic in certain areas. This was a highlight of my internship,” said Badru, who notes she was involved in all aspects of the intervention, from training more than 600 ground-level implementers who carried out the community mobilization, to working with pharmacies on transporting medications, to reporting findings.

Badru marks the fingernails (a standard identification method in community-based treatments and vaccinations in Nigeria) of children who receive preventive treatment for schistosomiasis. (Photo courtesy of Badru)

“This internship was a rare opportunity to experience public health hands-on in a completely different setting from what I was previously used to,” said Badru, who plans on pursuing her doctorate before settling into maternal and child work in low-resource settings. “Not only did I get to build upon key epidemiological skills on disease surveillance, monitoring and evaluation, but I got to learn more about program planning and public health interventions in a low-resource setting. One major takeaway from this experience is the need for public health officials to wear many hats. I learned to utilize a multidimensional approach when carrying out public health interventions.”

Badru giving training to those helping in the schistosomiasis control program. (Photo courtesy of Badru)

Badru credits the COPH coursework and service-learning opportunities with giving her the skillset she needed to be successful in the internship.

“I was able to apply many of the public health theoretical approaches and principles learned in class, and my extracurricular involvements at the college helped me with team building, leadership, community engagement and program planning,” said Badru. “This internship experience was an overwhelmingly fulfilling one.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health