Yanoh Jalloh: Fixing severe disparities and health inequities in Sierra Leone

From developing reproductive health programs for young girls in Kabala Sierra Leone, to managing high level projects funded by the center for Disease Control.

Yanoh Jalloh is well equipped to provide high quality research, programmatic and training expertise to organisations focused on health and development in African countries and the United States.

Born to Sierra Leonean parents in the United States, Yanoh’s passion to contributing to healthy sustainable societies by providing evidence based research driven programs, tools and resources has always been evident.

Over the last decade, she has garnered the necessary experience from working with local and international Non-Governmental organisations in Africa, to high level university research institutes in the United States. 

In this  interview, Yanoh Jalloh shares her career journey with young women in Sierra Leone, and her hopes to inspire and encourage them along their own journeys.

Women interested in public health - do not get into this industry for the money. It is a field that can be riveting, emotional, draining, but very fulfilling - @YKayJ Click To Tweet 

Describe yourself in one sentence?

I am a motivated, skilled and experienced international development specialist with close to a decade of’ experience of working with hard to reach populations of youth and on projects in Sierra Leone.

What motivates you to develop healthier societies in Africa?

Though I was born in the states, my family is originally from Sierra Leone and I have always felt a compelling call to respond to the severe disparities and health inequities in Sub- Saharan Africa.

Tell us about your public health background and how it relates to your Sierra Leonean heritage?

I obtained my Masters’ in Public Health with a concentration in Global Health in 2012, in 2011 during my practicum experience, I started working on the ground in Sierra Leone with the NGO Helen Keller International.

It was during this experience that I was able to hone in on my research and evaluation skills as I worked on a project which aimed to redesign the national child health card.

I also evaluated a multi-faceted nutrition intervention that was being implemented in several clinics throughout Freetown, Sierra Leone. Since then, I have been working both domestically on abroad on both short-term and long-term projects that mainly aim to improve health outcomes.

I have also worked with organisations in providing evaluation support and planning.

What are some career challenges you face?

I am in my early 30’s but I started working in this field in my mid 20’s. Age has often been a barrier and a challenge.

When you are young, you often lose opportunities to candidates who may have more years of experience, but are not necessarily as seasoned as you in a particular skill. I am also told I look a bit younger than I am, so this has also been a barrier.

Trying to balance a family and a young daughter has been so fulfilling but has also been a challenge. I have had to turn down opportunities as it conflicted with my family life, though I do not regret it, other opportunities that were more appropriate came along.

What are 3 things you have achieved in your field that you are proud of?

  1. Designing, leading, and teaching the first online Health Policy Course to MPH students at the College of Medical and Allied Health Sciences in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
  2. Developing health and sanitation courses for 300 youth in Kabala, Sierra Leone
  3. Leading alongside my amazing colleagues an adult immunisation campaign across New York City, during this campaign we partnered with 100 organisations and educated the providers about the importance of adult vaccines.

What advise can you provide to other women who want to go into health consultancy?

You will receive a lot of no’s before you receive a yes.

I would also advise to be very flexible, early on I had to take on unpaid or very low paying opportunities to build my portfolio, you must use these opportunities to advance your experience and to build contacts as well as to network.

Finally, do not get in this field for the money, it is a field that can be riveting, emotional, draining, but very fulfilling, you must get in this field because you want to see change.

For the Women|Change|Africa Bosschiques Build Program in Collaboration with WCA Creatives & Nadia Marie &Co

 Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

Public Health Career anyone?: Buckle your seat belts

So a public health career is your choice, and you are you are ready to go? Here is a checklist that could facilitate the journey.

Pre-professional experience

Some say is the polite form of very polite form of getting your hands dirty. You may have heard this a gazillion times ‘Voila!’ A career in this field is not an exception to the rule. Get some practice of a profession before you embark on your studies.

‘Exposure before training, is this even possible?’ I hear you ask.

It is quite simple really, volunteer, take time to work as an intern, join a fellowship programme…put yourself out there

 There are plenty of organizations out there seeking volunteers and its unimaginable how the spirit of volunteerism not only creates a positive awareness about health but gets everyone involved. I did volunteer during my soul-searching period with a humanitarian organization, the Red Cross, and Red Crescent movement.

The range of health activities ranged from disaster management, health promotion, logistics in supplies delivery in areas with conflict, this sort of exposure enabled me to relate to the human needs during emergencies while giving me the chance to help others.

This was more than I could have asked for a soul-searching period but I digress. Getting back my point be willing to work in a team and the knowledge gained will be immense.

You could schedule this during the weekend, summer break or better yet take a couple days off during your holiday and take volunteer abroad placements… Volunteer Vacation!

Some internships may be paid while others unpaid. As a volunteer, the organization may cater to your needs such as meals, accommodation, laundry while others may not.

However, this should not deter you to remember the core of public health is service to humanity. You may be receiving way more in expertise than you are actually giving…. food for thought!

School vs Time

So exposure is off the bucket list and you need technical knowledge. You need to hit the books again. here are options to explore, most degree courses in public health contain compulsory units also known as core subjects, while non-degree certificate courses allow one to focus on what captures your interest like health promotion, emergency relief, outreach nutrition, climate change and health.

Here are some timelines undergraduate courses range from 3 to 4 years, graduate courses take 1 or 2 years and could lead ultimately to doctorate/ Ph.D., diploma and postgraduate certificate ideally will take 6 months to a year to study. And guess what! most institutions of higher learning are now offering various short courses which take up to 4 weeks ………so no excuses.

Time vs Location

So you have the time but you currently working…. wait… not so fast don’t hang in the boots just yet! There’s actually an answer to this dilemma. Get online!

Welcome to the era of digitization and take a moment to thank the worldwide web for this one.  You can study from the comfort of your home. What you get will be access to learning material, webinars with tutors from across the globe and my favorite discussions with other students from all over the globe just a click away.

Self -paced learning could not have come at a better time, be the holder of a verified certificate, earn your credits and pick a public health topic you wish to learn.

Location vs Fees

Start saving early if you wish to carry out your degree in Public Health, that said the amount of payment for education depends on the university you will be attending.

Some good news though most teaching institutions may have a scholarship database which is something you should explore. If you think online your organization could actually assist in your professional development.

Again take advantage of the free online courses. Some of the certificate in public health courses are free and offered by some of the top universities across the world.

Finally remember when in doubt, tap into your resources these include your mentor, a teacher in the field, an expert who has been out in the field get some coffee.

Hearing others experience could guide you in the Public field…ENJOY THE RIDE!

 If you’d like to get featured on our Facebook page, click here to share your story with us.