2021
2021

5 Questions with Asma’u Abiola

Our monthly check-in with staff from around the world. Learn more about the people who work at CHAI.

Please tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to CHAI.

I studied economics and finance at Newcastle University in the UK and proceeded to master in sustainable development and environmental economics at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. During my master’s degree, I noticed an inclination towards public health and sustainable development, reflecting through my course work. Upon completing my master’s, I decided that I wanted a career in something that came naturally to me – public health – and CHAI was the perfect fit. Three and a half years later, I have worked on malaria, assistive technology, sustainable health financing, and COVID-19 in various capacities and now I have a strong understanding of the interrelationships between public health systems and how they correlate with wider sustainability issues.

1. What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is that it is a relatively nascent field. Sure, health systems have always been financed but deliberate efforts have not always been made to ensure that financing is inclusive and sustainable, especially in Nigeria where health is mostly financed out-of-pocket. The fact that it is nascent means that we are all learning and there is room to innovate and collaborate with multiple stakeholders. In addition, no idea is looked down upon and no strategy is free from gaps, so there is always an opportunity to provide unique insight. I really enjoy the collective and purposeful brainstorming sessions we have as a program and the opportunity to learn new lessons from other regions. I also enjoy how we are constantly trying out one strategy or another, discovering the strengths and limitations of each approach, and documenting the lessons to build up an information repository.

2. What has been one of your proudest moments working at CHAI?

It is most definitely the successful roll-out of the vulnerable populations program in Kano State, aimed at providing up to 20,000 financially vulnerable pregnant women and children under five access to essential health services. We started working with the Kano government in 2019 to design and implement the program, but experienced significant delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting competing government priorities. It started to look like the program would never really take off, but it did! After over 18 months of planning, designing, and developing tools and frameworks and building community capacity to support program implementation and requisite data systems for program oversight, enrollment of women and children for the vulnerable populations program commenced in May 2021. Field visits to the beneficiary communities confirmed the significant positive impact that the program is yielding in terms of providing services to women and children that they could not otherwise afford. Whenever I read patient stories about how the program has saved their lives from financial distress, I remember how long and hard we worked to achieve these results. It gives me immense pride to be part of such a passionate and mission-driven team.

3. What is a motto you live by?

Be fearless but be prepared for the unexpected.

4. What are three words that describe you?

Resilient, ambivert, reliable

5. What is your favorite holiday memory?

My favorite holiday memory was when my family and I rode a ferry on the Bosphorus tour in Istanbul in 2019. We watched as pigeons flew around us and fed them while we rode the boat. We saw beautiful valleys and the large and clear waterway. It was so tranquil and beautiful.

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