A Willingness to Try New Things Led MPH Student Zoha Anjum to a Career in Global Health

by Zoha Anjum

Students of Public Health: Voices & Profiles focuses on research projects and other contributions students are making to advance public health.

Zoha Anjum

Student Voices — During my undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto, I worked with the Youth Health Action Network (YHAN) on accessibility to mental health services in post-secondary institutions. My involvement led to the publication of a video clip demonstrating students’ perspectives on mental health services at their respective schools. This extracurricular involvement was my first exposure to the field of public health. After contributing to the project for two years, I was confident about my decision to pursue my graduate training in public health. Having applied to various public health graduate programs in Canada, I decided to pursue the Masters of Public Health program at McMaster University, mainly due to the option of pursuing a thesis project, in addition to learning about public health through formal courses. I was also concurrently accepted to Waters Without Borders (WWB), a prestigious interdisciplinary graduate diploma program at the United Nations University, Institute of Water, Environment & Health (UNU-INWEH).

Visit to United Nations University Institute of Natural Resources in Africa

I had an interest in infectious diseases at the outset of my graduate studies. However, my horizons expanded after I went on a water-related research trip to Ghana as a part of my WWB studies. In Ghana, my classmates and I conducted key informant interviews with non-profit organizations and focus groups with the students at the University of Ghana to learn more about their perspectives on the country’s progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 6.1 (Water) and 6.2 (Sanitation). We also performed quality testing on water obtained from various sources such as springs, taps, and sealed bottles. During our trip, we visited a few rural communities near the city of Accra to acquire knowledge about water, sanitation, and hygiene issues in rural parts of the country. This eye-opening experience made me realize how access to potable water, a basic necessity, is a privilege in certain parts of the world. Inadequate or poor-quality water has many implications for health and wellness and leads to a plethora of acute and chronic conditions. This experience further inspired me to pursue my thesis project in the field of water equity and water-borne illness.

Visit to a local community in Accra, Ghana

Currently, I am conducting a secondary data analysis to identify an association between equitable access to potable water and prevalence of diarrhea in a rural community in Kenya, using geospatial analysis tools. Establishing an association between access to potable water and diarrhea will highlight how equity relates to infectious diseases. The results of this study can be used to perform evidence-based decision making in the lower- and middle-income countries (LMIC). Furthermore, my project may provide foundational tools to promote and plan development in the neighborhoods under study.

Having no prior experience with programming and geospatial analysis, learning the relevant software has been a rough journey so far. Despite these challenges, I am confident that I will be able to complete my thesis within the expected timeframe with assistance from my thesis committee. I am taking my thesis as an opportunity to develop statistical and analytical expertise that will stay with me for the rest of my career. Actively seeking opportunities to learn more about my methodology and consulting experts in the field have been my two go-to strategies to overcome this challenge.

This project is an avenue for me to kick-start my career in global health. I am interested in pursuing work related to water-borne diseases in LMIC as a professional. This project is helping me build my networks, enhance my skillset, and learn more about water issues in LMIC. As a student who transitioned from basic life sciences to global health, I would advise other students with similar interests to get involved with initiatives that are out of their niche. My interest in global health was sparked following my involvement with the WWB program, which was not relevant to my undergraduate training at all. In short, don’t hesitate to try new things and step outside your comfort zone! Your passion might be waiting just around the corner!

Zoha Anjum is a graduate student pursuing her Masters in Public Health at McMaster University and a graduate diploma at the United Nations University. Zoha completed her undergraduate studies in physiology at the University of Toronto. She is interested in water equity and water-borne illnesses research in the lower- and middle-income countries.

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