Catherine Georgina Thomas
MSc in Global Health, TCD
Catherine works in Liberia's Ministry of Health and was attracted to TCD's MSc in Global Health following her experiences working during the Ebola Virus epidemic in 2014-15.
Before coming to Ireland, I was working in Liberia as the National Coordinator for Schistosomiasis and Soil Transmitted Helminths (diseases transmitted by parasitic worms). My role was to conduct research, coordinate, supervise, train and monitor programme implementation, ranging from conducting prevalence studies to implementing Mass Drug Administration activities. As part of the Neglected Tropical Diseases team, I also helped wherever my skills were needed.
My background in Biology, and training in school health and nutrition, enable me to work with children and women in rural and remote areas where access to health services is a serious concern. I have always been interested in working with vulnerable populations, (women and children) and making sure that this group have equitable access to healthcare.
My recent work during the Ebola Virus outbreak in Liberia was the major factor that drew my attention to the Global Heath course. As I watched the disease spread globally and its impact on huge populations, especially more vulnerable groups, my passion for making an impact in the health sector was strengthened. It made me realise that there are so many gaps within the health sector globally, and that the diseases we fight don’t care about national borders. This outbreak greatly increased my desire to serve humanity, my country and the world at large by helping to build a more vibrant and resilient health system.
There is so much to do in the areas of health system strengthening and policies, especially in developing countries, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving this. The use of a well-coordinated effort drawing on available resources can aid a lot in the strengthening of health systems and making sure that vulnerable groups have access to the health services they need.
Taking the Global Health course at Trinity College Dublin with me are students from many different backgrounds and cultures, bringing a lot of expertise, concepts, ideas and values to the course. For me, without a clinical background, a mix of doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and physiotherapists is giving me a wealth of expertise to draw from.
My course has taught me a lot, especially coming from the background of a developing country. It has helped to enhance my knowledge about health at a global level. Being a National Coordinator influencing policy, I have to work with my team to develop policies, guidelines and operational plans that will benefit the children and women of Liberia. Now, I will be able to look at things more critically and provide guidance on the implementation of policy documents affecting these vulnerable groups.
Liberia is currently operating the Essential Package of Health Services, a ten-year plan seeking to build and strengthen basic health services, taking into consideration our fragile healthcare system. At this time of our nation’s history after the Ebola crisis, the need for highly trained professional health workers for decision making and programme management cannot be over-emphasised. With the training, knowledge and skills acquired through my studies at Trinity College, I will be able to positively contribute to this process, and to help build the capacity of others.
For my dissertation, I am going to examine the Liberian Health system, which was devastated by the Ebola crisis. A major factor responsible for this was the underlying weakness of the health system, and the inability to adequately handle emergencies of such magnitude. As part of the plan in rebuilding a resilient health system after the Ebola epidemic, the Ministry of Health and its partners set up the Emergency Operation Centre to handle and respond to all future public health emergencies in a timely manner. My objective will be to determine the country’s level of preparedness to face any emergency of public health potential.
Looking at my future career, I hope to make a significant impact in Liberia, as well as globally. I also pray that the expertise I have developed, and that of others, will be used to help Liberia build a resilient health system that will adequately cater to the health needs of its population, thereby achieving universal health coverage. I hope that the skills gained during my studies in Ireland will contribute to achieving this goal.