Outside the biomedical box of integrated care research. Meet some of our new INTE-AFRICA staff
The INTE-AFRICA consortium is made up of a range of diverse professionals from Europe and Africa. They are experts in unique activities that range from infectious disease care, non-communicable diseases care, public health, project management, implementation, social science, or health economics. Have you ever wondered what it takes to be involved in a large multi-country randomised control trial? We have interviewed some of our INTE-AFRICA staff who are both on the ground and behind the scenes to give you an idea. Follow along in our series documenting some of our INTE-AFRICA consortium members!
Interviewee name: Layla Smith
Role in INTE-AFRICA: Programme Officer
Where they are based: Liverpool, UK
Past role/job: Overseas Projects Coordinator at LSHTM
Who are you?
I’m a project manager from the UK who has worked on numerous international public health projects in both NGOs and in research organisations. It might sound cheesy but I like the work I do simply because I know I’m working on projects that do some good and that’s important to me.
How has your journey helped you lead to this point in your career?
After a number of years in NGOs working on sexual reproductive health and hunger and livelihood interventions across Asia and Africa, I joined the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2013 to work on a large HIV/AIDs clinical trial and never looked back. I moved into the world of Malaria in 2015 managing a variety of public health research projects. The focus on generating evidence to inform policy, as well as the capacity-building work in the countries in which we work (both in terms of scientists and programme management), was inspiring and I knew I’d found my ‘thing’. After 14 years of living in London, I decided to escape the capital. Towards the end of a planned 18-month career break, I saw the role of Programme Officer advertised. I was already familiar with LSTM and the work they do, knew it would be a good fit and so and here I am!
How did you initially get involved in project management?
After university, personal circumstances meant that I knew I wanted to work in the charity sector, although I wasn’t sure doing what exactly. I managed to get myself a 2-week temp job as a receptionist in an NGO working in sexual reproductive health, but I ended up staying there for 5 years. Whilst there I had the opportunity to do a few secondments in different departments, and I enjoyed the programme management side of things the most so took on a permanent role within the Asia programmes team. I basically then worked my way up, gaining more experience as I went along.
How has the field of integrated care, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, been changing?
When I moved from an NGO background into research, what struck me is how NGO interventions can actually contribute to a fragmented system, even though the intentions are good. I think there has been an improvement in terms of collaboration between NGOs, research institutions and MoH, and bringing different organisations together which in turn has led to more focus around the long term strengthening of health systems rather than just local, specific interventions.
What areas of HIV and NCD research do you think are being neglected?
The area of NCDs is actually new to me, but I’m excited to learn more. I’m looking forward to learning more about integrated care and how people take to that, and also about more community-based care for people living with NCDs.
What do you hope to do at LSTM and as part of a member in the INTE-AFRICA consortium?
I want to be an active member of the team, using my skills and experience to ensure the smooth running of the projects. I’d like to get involved with programme management capacity building activities – something which I feel is hugely important. I’m also excited to get involved in communications work to showcase the good work the group is doing both internally and externally.
Besides helping manage randomised control trials, what do you enjoy doing?
I love being outdoors – I like going off on big long hikes, I like to try and surf (I’m terrible at it), and I like to climb (I’m terrible at that too), and I kayak/SUP. I’m also a scuba nut – during my career break, I dived around Asia for 18 months and got my professional qualification. I love being underwater and swimming with the big stuff like sharks and rays, but also adore searching for the weird and wonderful little critters that you can find, like pipefish and nudibranchs. I also want to do further technical dive training down the line so I can go to deeper depths and stay underwater longer.