A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject of today’s “A Week In The Life” is a medical doctor working at an NGO. He talks to us about why he left clinical medicine for NGO work, lessons he has learnt on the job, and how all his experiences add up in helping him achieve his dreams.
My day starts early because I’m a nightcrawler. I wake up at 3 a.m. to read an email or watch a movie, then I return to sleep when I’m done.
I wake up again by 5:30 a.m. to pray, and I lie in bed after prayers doing nothing till 7:00 a.m. Then I get up to have my bath. A side effect of living outside Lagos is that I spend 45 minutes bathing, brushing, singing in the shower and still get to work by 8 a.m. The roads are free and my house is a 10-minute drive from my office.
I resume my day with coffee to wake me up and I start to mentally psyche myself to face the day. Mondays have one thing in common: meetings, meetings, more meetings.
I work as a program associate at an NGO providing access to care for people living with HIV. My organisation’s job is to monitor and manage the entire care process in line with the UNAIDS 95-95-95 goal. This states that firstly, 95% of people who are HIV positive should know that they are HIV positive. Secondly, 95% of people who receive an HIV positive diagnosis should be on medications. Thirdly, 95% of people who start treatment for HIV should be virally suppressed.
We try to achieve this goal by splitting ourselves into various teams: the tuberculosis HIV team, the prevention of mother to child transmission team, the paediatric team and the adult team. I work with the adult team and my job involves receiving patient’s data from health workers on the field and using it to guide strategy and program implementation.
Today, I read through the data of the number of clients in care, their viral load level and drug adherence. From these indicators, I can tell where our strategy is working and where it isn’t. One of the states I’m managing shows a number of patients with a relatively high viral load, so I make a mental note to enrol some of them in an enhanced adherence counselling program. This is to understand their specific challenges and help them work through them.
If that doesn’t work, then we’ll have to switch them to second-line antiretroviral drugs.
I inform my boss of this development and he suggests we travel down to the community for a few days to support the work of the field workers and to observe their process.
I acknowledge his advice and concern, however, the major thing on my mind is food. I need to eat before I can continue thinking. It’s important I help myself first before I try to help others.
It’s 5:00 p.m and it’s the close of work. Days like this remind me of why I decided to leave clinical medicine. As a clinician, I’d work 48 hours non-stop shifts and still resume work on the third day by 6:30 a.m. Every free time I had was dedicated to either sleeping, catching up on sleep or dreaming about when I’d sleep.
I quickly realised that the 24/7 work lifestyle wasn’t for me and I ran. I was also looking for something mentally tasking with a large scale impact on the population, so the NGO job fit perfectly. The ability to work flexible hours while providing impact? Sign me up.
In addition, the remuneration was very attractive. Suddenly, work went from being miserable to being “fun.”
I’m fortunate to have this job and I don’t take it for granted. I plan to make the best use of my time and that’s why today, I’m meeting up with a few friends for dinner. After all, all work and no play…
It’s been a relatively chill week and nothing has broken, yet. That’s why I have some time to reminisce today.
A few things I’ve learned from this job: there are a lot of young people living with HIV in Nigeria. A lot. But it’s also not a death sentence because, with proper treatment and adherence, people live till old age. I’ve seen first-hand how compliant patients who receive HIV diagnosis live with suppressed and virtually undetectable viral load. This means they can carry on without the fear of infecting their sexual partner.
I’ve also seen how people struggle with stigma because of their HIV diagnosis. And how tedious it can be to use medicine at a fixed time every day.
Then, I’ve also noticed that the prevalence of HIV seems more among people from low socioeconomic backgrounds. And that’s why I’m sure that if we didn’t have NGO’s, the HIV burden in Nigeria would have been 10 times more than it currently is.
At the end of the day, everyone needs to understand that HIV is not a death sentence and that people live meaningful lives regardless.
Work has also made me abstain from having multiple sexual partners. Because I understand that the easiest mode of contracting HIV is through unprotected sexual intercourse, I have only one sexual partner. I wish younger people had more sexual education to encourage them to stay safe.
It’s currently noon and that means we’re a few hours away from the weekend — TGIF!
I’m aggressively trying to wrap up all my tasks for the day so I don’t take work home over the weekend. But my tasks involve a lot of “dear sir”, “dear ma”, “please find attached” and so many “best regards.” One of the hard parts of corporate culture is the formality and email culture, but I don’t mind. It’s still better than where I’m coming from.
I know that if I put my head down this experience will be very useful. As long as I keep polishing my Excel skills, Microsoft skills and soft skills, it’ll add up. After I’ve gained meaningful experience then I’ll go for my Masters in health policy or data science and start to focus on health system strengthening. By the time I’m done, I’ll be one big consultant focusing on Nigeria, Then I’ll forget all about this struggle.
Until that time comes, I’ll keep typing my “warm regards.” And working and playing hard. However, before I start dreaming, I need to first survive today in one piece.
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