UAlbany Summer: MPH Student Aids Sexual Reproductive Health Efforts in Togo, West Africa

A portrait of Aicha and UNFPA staff.
Aicha Akindele (front) with UNFPA Togo staff and Dr. Olga Sankara, Togo UNFPA Representative a.i.

ALBANY, N.Y. (Aug. 15, 2023)  This summer, Master of Public Health (MPH) student Aicha Akindele interned with the Togolese branch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), where she supported efforts to improve sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, and population data.

"Being of Togolese and Nigerian heritage, I have always yearned to return to these countries and contribute to impactful initiatives," Akindele explains. “My passion for global health and the well-being of mothers and children made this internship with UNFPA Togo a perfect fit for me.”

After identifying UNFPA Togo as a site she wanted to intern, Akindele connected with John Justino, director of the School of Public Health’s Center for Global Health, to determine next steps to develop a global internship.

I was thrilled to learn that John had a prior connection with the former country representative for UNFPA Togo, Josiane Yaguibou, which enabled us to use the power of networking to connect with UNFPA Togo and secure an internship,” she says.

A portrait of a group of interns in Togo, Africa.
Aicha Akindele with a group of interns from Orange Space, which assists with the achievement and development of young people in Togo.

At UNFPA Togo, Akindele’s assignments primarily focused on integrating gender perspectives to enhance program effectiveness and impact. This involved various tasks, including resource mobilization efforts, qualitative analysis of family planning data, assisting in survey development and facilitation, and writing comprehensive reports. She notes that a highlight of the internship was meetings and workshops with colleagues, where she was able to collaborate and share ideas while expanding her knowledge and network.

“Being in Togo for three months provided me with ample opportunities to immerse myself in the culture, work closely with the community, and contribute to meaningful projects,” Akindele says. “I also had the opportunity to visit family and travel to neighboring towns within Togo. It has been a truly amazing experience, both personally and professionally.”

MPH Student Interns in Togo

Akindele’s international travel was supported by the Carol A. Whittaker Global Health Travel Award Fund, which assists students to live and work abroad as they gain skills to launch global health careers. She also received funding from UAlbany’s Initiatives for Women, which helps women at the University at Albany reach their professional goals.

“I am thrilled that Aicha received funding towards her summer in Togo," says Justino. “Ensuring that our public health students have access to meaningful global experiential learning opportunities, like the one Aicha is having this summer, is more important than ever.”

Now going into the second year of her MPH program, Akindele plans to combine what she learned abroad in Togo with her academic coursework to prepare for a career in global maternal and child health.

“Interning abroad strengthened my passion for global health and solidified my commitment to working toward improving maternal and child health outcomes in underserved communities," she says. “The exposure to real-world challenges and the chance to contribute to meaningful initiatives has been invaluable in shaping my future career path.”