I had been working in the same strategy consulting firm for four years and had found my sweet spot there. Acasus contacted me directly, they were looking for someone to help kickstart the project in Chad. Surprisingly, for the first time I could see myself changing jobs, that was for several reasons:
I joined the project in March, it had started for a bit more than a month. We were wrapping up the diagnosis. The goal was to socialize it, share it and build consensus around the key objectives and actions that needed to be implemented. It involved a lot of meetings and discussions with all stakeholders. And this means a lot of people, from the ministry, the EPI as well as from the partners. Then we also had to start some actions, support the EPI operations, solve some very operational issues (trucks full of vaccines stuck in the middle of the road because they ran out of gas...). It was super exciting to be on both the strategic and the operational fronts.
Of course it was also the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic and for some time we had to be quarantined, then flown back to France. Still, I was actually impressed by how we could keep the work going remotely with the Chadian counterparts, despite some internet limitations and the fact that we had had little time to build work relationships.
We had a few goals that of course we had to adjust to the health situation. Our primary focus was to improve vaccine availability, by securing funds from the Chadian state, revamping the vaccine delivery process and ensuring it happened. Second, we had to ensure that the vaccines could be properly stored, with a good level of cold chain availability in the mid term and a better functionality in the short term. Third, we wanted to build strong systems to collect reliable data from the field.
We scored strong successes on all these fronts: 5 complete vaccine deliveries throughout the country have helped improve vaccine availability everywhere and decrease stock-outs by a factor of 2.5 ! Supervisions in 5 provinces ensure that 400+ facilities are visited each month! The two consultants that supported the project back then (Amine and Amine) played a good role as well to kickstart it.
For this year we want to expand existing work to new provinces and launch critical activities like support to outreach strategies and IPVS. With the new project on COVAX, we also have objectives pertaining to the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine. I can’t say how thrilling it is to be at the heart of burning issues and at the core of the country’s strategy: define targets, imagine vaccine delivery strategies, design logistics to convey the vaccines, build data collection systems, etc. Now that I think about it I probably caught the virus itself because I was too close to the topic professionally!
The biggest hurdle we have faced and continue to face is two-fold:
Yes, it’s been an amazing adventure so far, and very rewarding as well ! I think it was a combination of trust, guidance, experience from my background and a bit of luck, as always!
All along the way I felt Acasus trusted me and gave me room to evolve, make my own decisions, etc. I also think that what helped me as well was some of the relationships I made with the EPI. When everything was halted due to COVID, Acasus still managed to move a lot of things forward, and it built up our reputation for sure. Finally being the only international consultant after my colleague left in June kind of pushed me to this role!
To be honest this role has come with an increased pressure but also a lot more freedom to make choices and set my own direction. This includes being responsible for a team that has now grown to 5 brilliant people, with different personalities and ways of working: define responsibilities/assignments, ensure proper feedback is given, foster growth! I think only then did I realize the infinite nuances of professional interactions. Of course this new role also implies increased exposure (including political); thus relationships, reputation and perception of my own person are a lot more critical… it really makes you self aware…! Despite all this, I think it also gave me the luxury of picking the topics I want to deep dive on. Since, I still like some aspects of the more operational tasks such as running analyses, building data visualization, drafting presentations. I’m happy to be able to continue this aspect of the work.
From now on, a new challenge awaits: advertise our work and achievements at a higher level and build on it to go beyond immunization and improve the delivery of the whole primary healthcare in Chad.
I remember very clearly my first time on the field. We were going to Ati (Batha) to train district teams on RED and supervisions. We had left the capital a bit late and couldn’t reach Ati before sunset and curfew. The road was in a terrible state and we had to stop in a small village for the night. We slept under the stars (and the mosquito net) and woke up with the sun and the eagles circling above our heads. It was really a magical moment. We then went on through a really picturesque muddy track in the savane to reach to dusty yet beautiful Ati.
My dream is to open a new healthcare project in Cabo Verde, the dream country. But it’s unlikely to happen given how well they are already doing haha!
Sure, thanks, Melinda!
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