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“I am slowly settling back, but it’s hard!” says Isabelle Bertrand, who recently completed her six-month fellowship with IntraHealth. “I’m missing Senegal very much.”
IntraHealth selected Isabelle to work with its team in Senegal on Mobilize against Malaria, a Pfizer-funded project. Isabelle’s six-month assignment was made possible by another prestigious Pfizer program: the Global Health Fellows Program (GHF). GHF is a competitive program in which Pfizer supports employees with fully funded fellowship assignments that enable them to work to improve health in the developing world for volunteer assignments between three and six months in length. You can watch Isabelle Bertrand discuss her work with the Mobilize against Malaria project in Senegal here.
The Mobilize against Malaria project—a five-year, three-country initiative, led by IntraHealth in Senegal—aims to increase the number of people who seek and receive effective antimalaria medication. Isabelle worked in Tambacounda to support the project.
“Working with people from rural Senegal and being part of the IntraHealth team gave me a lot of satisfaction,” remarks Isabelle. “I found people extremely welcoming and cheerful...I’ve learned a lot from them, and I did my best to be helpful to them, too.”
Isabelle says she succeeded in achieving her goal for the fellowship, which was to use the knowledge and skills she had gained at Pfizer to have a positive impact in Senegal. Specifically, she wanted to help the fight against malaria in whatever way she could with IntraHealth, which collaborates with Senegal’s Ministry of Health and Pfizer to implement a community-level malaria prevention and treatment program in the Tambacounda region.
With aid from local language interpreters, Isabelle worked with project coordinators to conduct initial and follow-up trainings on malaria prevention and treatment. In her Pfizer blog kept during her fellowship, Isabelle explains her scope of work by placing it in context. First, she describes Tambacounda’s very low population density—about 11 inhabitants per square kilometer. “Due to this wide dispersal of the population and also due to the lack or shortage of transportation means and lack of roads, access to health care is often limited and difficult,” she writes, adding that people often die on their way to the health center or hospital.
For those reasons, she explains, the project brings malaria treatment to the community level via 24 newly established health huts managed by community volunteers, who form health committees. Isabelle worked with IntraHealth’s team to train these health committee volunteers on their roles and responsibilities: managing health hut activities, keeping records of all earnings and expenditures, helping plan future health hut activities and expenses, and communicating extensively with their local villages.
To date, the project has trained 72 health committee members and 96 village volunteers in malaria prevention and communication techniques, producing educational materials as well. The health huts are now stocked with an initial supply of medicine to treat malaria, and monitoring tools have been developed. The 24 health huts provide health care to a population of over 35,000 people.
Isabelle’s greatest challenge was communication as only very few people could speak French. As a result, she focused her attention on the type of work she could do well: writing reports, doing document translation work from English to French, and assisting with populating the monitoring database.
The people and culture of the Tambacounda region taught Isabelle as well. “Although travelling to rural areas of Senegal was heartbreaking at times, it was also greatly enlightening.” She describes the villages in which she worked: “There is no electricity and no running water.... Chicken, sheep, horses and donkeys run freely between the huts.
“There are no roads but only narrow paths that become very muddy and thus inaccessible during the rainy season. Naturally none of the villagers have cars. The only means of transport are carriages pulled by donkeys or horses.” Isabelle explains that education levels are generally low, and the people she met worked hard from an early age. But, she adds, even with few resources and little means at all, “people were cheerful and smiling. They could also be extremely generous.... It reminded me that money doesn’t make happiness.”
Isabelle has returned to her home in the UK and to her role as a regulatory affairs strategist with Pfizer.