by Katherine Low
From London, Ontario to London, England, Jannah Wigle has transitioned a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree from Western to a position with UK-based Options Consultancy Services, a maternal and newborn health program in six African countries, including Malawi. And although paid work in international development can be difficult to find, Wigle has combined hard work, continued education and a personal quest to achieve her professional goals – and help save lives.
Wigle graduated from Western in 2008 with a specialization in health sciences and a minor in psychology and she credits her time at Western for starting her on the path she is on today.
“The flexibility of the program enabled many students, including myself, to customize their course selection and focuses to their particular interests and aspirations,” she says. “It also opened my eyes to other areas of science and health beyond the usual biology and chemistry courses that I had not been exposed to, including health ethics, health policy, health promotion and others.”
She went on to earn a postgraduate certificate in public relations from Humber College in 2009. During her time at Humber, she worked for the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation (PMCF) in special events and health communications.
“Unfortunately like many, my life has been personally touched by cancer and PMCF’s mission to conquer cancer in our lifetime struck a chord with me,” she says. “Although I loved events, fundraising and the incredible people at PMCF, I decided I wanted to be more involved in the health side rather than fundraising side of helping people.”
So she set out for an internship with the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland in communications for the Making Pregnancy Safer department.
“After learning more about the issue of maternal mortality and morbidity, that sparked my passion for public health and in particular, women’s health/maternal health,” she says.
Then she was off to the London School of Economics and Political Science to pursue a master’s degree in Health, Population and Society, earning a distinction on her dissertation and the Brian Abel Smith Prize for the best dissertation and best overall performance in her program.
“One of my courses on reproductive health program design, implementation and evaluation was a significant spark for my professional passion, as well as steered me to my internship and current position,” she says of her time there.
Since graduating in 2011, she has been working with Evidence 4 Action, a multi-year program that aims to improve maternal and newborn survival in sub-Saharan Africa. Funded by the UK Department for International Development, it is led by African experts in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Malawi and Tanzania. Evidence 4 Action focuses on using a strategic combination of evidence, advocacy and accountability to save lives.
“My current role is primarily to lead on capacity building efforts across all six countries – analyzing, planning, monitoring and evaluating capacity building activities,” she says. “I also provide technical support for the Malawi and Tanzania programs, including writing research documents, monitoring and evaluation and planning in-country activities, involving travel to both countries.”
Options provides technical and program management expertise and support for international donors and organizations like the UK’s department for international development. Via programs in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and the UK, It provides expertise in areas including sexual and reproductive health, maternal newborn and child health and health system strengthening through policy development, conducting participatory research, supporting the design, management, monitoring and evaluation of programs.
In her position, Wigle works to identify potential areas of development, create training materials and resources for both her teams and external stakeholders, and document their progress and successes to ensure that others can replicate and learn from the program in the future.
“The maternal and newborn health field is not an easy one,” she says. “It is currently the Millennium Development Goal (5) that is least likely to be met, and the health indicator for many countries that has seen the least progress. The challenges, just as working within any health area, are numerous, and progress is hindered by poor education, the lack of empowerment of women and weak health systems.”
Yet Wigle holds firm to her goals and is seeing first-hand the difference her work is making. “I am extremely proud of the work that the Evidence for Action program is doing,” she says. “A sense of fatalism, helplessness and of acceptance of maternal and newborn deaths are too prevalent within many countries, and we are aiming to change this through engaging with and empowering the African public to demand action and for changes to be made. Changing this focus to one of successes and positive stores within maternal and newborn health, communicating tangible actions for everyone, from the community to the policy level, and uniting all organizations under one campaign (the ‘MamaYe’ campaign) to focus efforts and commitments to a mutual goal, are just a few of the inspiring actions that I am proud to be playing a small part in.”