Levelling up my work in non-communicable disease through the MPH course

Ogweno Stephen is a global health enthusiast and author, and a student on the Master of Public Health (MPH) course at Manchester. He is also the founder and CEO of Stowelink, which undertakes innovative community health projects focusing on non-communicable disease (NCD) literacy and access to healthcare. He was recognised as one of the top 100 most influential youths in Africa in 2020 for his extraordinary leadership and commitment to reducing the burden of NCDs in Africa.

Here, Ogweno talks about the MPH course so far, and explains more about the important work that Stowelink does.

Why I chose the MPH at Manchester

Growing up, I faced challenges living with NCDs, and this challenge was not only in my family, but also in the community around me. I saw a lot of people suffer and die from cancer, stroke and diabetes because they had the wrong information on these diseases and, as a result, sought traditional healers who did not have the resources and training to help.

Ogweno Stephen.

Because of all the suffering and the economic burden NCDs had on my community, I made it my life’s mission to see to it that everyone had access to relevant and easy-to-understand information on NCDs, and that everyone had access to early diagnostic services for NCDs. The best way of achieving this goal was through a master’s course.

I decided on Manchester very early on, when I was an undergraduate, because of an alumnus from the University. In 2018, I was at a scientific conference where I was presenting for the very first time in such a high-level forum. At that conference, one of the presenters was from The University of Manchester, and the way he presented his research made me develop a keen interest in studying at Manchester.

How the MPH has helped my career

Besides being a student at Manchester, I am the founder and CEO of Stowelink, an organisation focused on improving literacy and access to early diagnostic services for NCDs. We do this actively through community projects, quarterly medical camps and research, and by leveraging mobile health technologies and innovation.

Through these projects, Stowelink aims to educate communities on the major NCDs and their risk factors. To date, Stowelink has been able to reach over 3.5 million people both online and offline, receive local and global recognition for their innovation and in 2020 expand its impact and partners through the NCDs 365 project to 8 African countries.

I also consult with the World Health Organization (WHO) under the NCD labs project, where I was appointed to the board in charge of the NCDs and the Next Generation thematic area.

As a current student working in the NCD space and the mobile health sector, as well as with young people, the course has enabled me to learn and solidify concepts in these subject areas. One of my favourite units from the course has been Digital Public Health, which has really helped us improve on some aspects of the mobile health intervention that we are currently implementing in Kenya.

A Stowelink project in action.

Collaborating with a Manchester lecturer

On a different note, Stowelink has also had help from one of my lecturers when working on a toolkit. The pandemic meant we were not able to continue with our previous quantity of physical training sessions in 2020, so we decided to adopt a more sustainable form of communication with minimal resources.

From this, the NCDs 365 project was born. This is a robust, innovative project aimed at educating communities on NCDs, both online and offline. The NCDs 365 app (available on the Google Play store) helps gamify learning on NCDs, especially for kids through the development of an NCDs board game.

We developed a mobile application that not only educates the public on NCDs, but also lists relevant events and organisations working in the NCDs space for easy reference. The platform is also available offline, so it can continue to be accessed in areas with little internet connection. This was very important, as this feature allowed us to pilot the application with community health workers who would use the app to educate people on NCDs and offer referral services.

A group of people holding NCD training documents.

However, we soon realised that we were still unable to reach schools and communities who had minimal access to this information and services. In order for us to fill that gap, we started to develop an NCDs module for schools and communities. This took the form of a simplified and visually appealing toolkit that provided users with the ability to easily read and understand the concepts.

In the development of this toolkit, we were privileged to cross paths with Roger Harrison, a lecturer at Manchester and an antimicrobial resistance enthusiast. We shared with him our draft concept and, together, we were able to develop a very standardised toolkit that was later endorsed by the NCD Alliance of Kenya, and has been used to train over 90 community health workers, each representing a village in Kenya.

This has been one of the most important collaborations that we have had in 2020, and the work continues to impact people’s lives.

If you’re new to public health and want to learn more, you can sign up for one of our free short courses on public health. You can also find out more about Manchester’s undergraduate and postgraduate courses in public health.

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