​Addressing Challenges in the Health Sector through Internships

The Year 2020 has been challenging to the healthcare sector with the COVID-19 pandemic and has magnified our focus on health systems and infrastructure globally. AKU's Virtual Internship Programme (AKU-VIP) interns are working on projects that address COVID-19 challenges and improve health and safety systems across different geographical contexts. Through their internships, the interns have been able to apply their existing knowledge about the health sector and have contributed to identifying gaps in local healthcare systems using research and innovation.

Kanishka Sikhri
Gender and Health Intern
Aga Khan Foundation, Mozambique

​COVID-19 has been exacerbating societal inequalities, particularly in vulnerable and marginalized societies. The team at the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in Mozambique aims to reduce structural inequalities, such as in gender and health during this time. Kanishka Sikri, a Gender and Health intern at AKF, Mozambique, has been working on improving Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for women and girls in the Cabo Province of northern Mozambique as a part of the Strengthening Partnerships to Advance Sexual and Reproductive Health in Cabo (SPARC) project. She has been involved in developing a landscape, gap, and recommendation analysis/toolkit on the current Social and Behavioural Change Strategy (SBCC) to integrate a critical intersectional gender framework into every healthcare sector's facet Mozambique.

Safira Chirindza, Kanishka’s mentor at AKF, Mozambique, shared that she values Kanishka's contributions to the project. Elaborating, she said that the most integral part of implementing gender and development projects is to engage with community members and propose bottom-up, grassroots, and localized interventions. Interns like Kanishka are able to address those gaps during design and provide fresh perspectives.  For Kanishka, this project has given her a lot of insight into behavioral change regarding gender justice and liberation, especially in regions where gender inequality is heavily entrenched.

Christina Nguyen​​
Research Intern, Paediatrics and Child Health Department
Aga Khan University, Kenya

Intern Christina Nguyen has been providing research expertise on projects focusing on neurodevelopmental disorders. She is inspired by AKDN's mission to transform healthcare systems, especially in the global South. Christina has been conducting literatur​e reviews, collecting data, summarising academic reports, and synthesizing reports to address gaps in treatment and financial resources for many local communities. General topics of her research consisted of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), epilepsy, birth asphyxia in low to middle-income countries. Her mentor Dr. Pauline Samia, Interim Chair, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, says, 'Christina has been great at projects and initiatives she's been engaged in since joining. Proposals and background information that Christina put together was directly used by the team for a proposed study.

​Christina is involved with transcribing reports and working with the ENDnote reference management application, which was used to organize and manage bibliographies and references while writing the reports. Although she is not physically present in the Nairobi office, Christina has not deterred from being appropriately involved." For Christina, this experience has provided her with a solid foundation for future career options in global health and research. It has helped her to hone her research and writing abilities, become more proactive and diligent, and increased her repertoire of knowledge on paediatric neurodevelopmental disorders. 

Yasmina Gaber
Health Management Intern
Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi

Yasmina Gaber worked with the Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi, to contribute inputs to Kenya's health sector.  She was involved in creating a projection model for the COVID-19 case count in Kenya. Yasmina's project has significant relevance to local communities, supply chains, healthcare workers, health service deliveries, and much more. With guidance from her mentor, Mildred Maisiba, Yasmina has identified areas of improvement within the six different building blocks of a healthcare system, as defined by the World Health Organisation. Each block was evaluated using various sources, followed by recommendations inspired by best-practices and success points highlighted elsewhere.

​All three AKU-VIP interns agree that their contributions to these health projects provide them with the relevant skill sets including leadership, time management, communications, and design thinking skills significant for their future careers. They believe that they have become more proactive and disciplined individuals by working virtually and this experience has been a humbling and eye-opening opportunity for them to gain perspective on various health issues in the developing world.