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Alumna Collaborates on Public Health Initiatives in Zambia

A class takes place at Ngoli Day Secondary School in Zambia's Northern Province.
Sarah Lomahan poses for a picture holding a chicken while working for the Peace Corps in Zambia.

When Sarah Lomahan began her work in the Peace Corps, located in Zambia’s Northern Province, the case studies she engaged in during the course “Public Health and Global Citizenship” in the BA in Public Health program became all the more real.

“We did case studies on neglected diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, on malaria, so I was understanding the context coming in,” Lomahan said. “With the Peace Corps, I saw first hand how people were using mosquito nets for fishing or as lines to catch water.  Seeing what you read in a case study first-hand was really important.”

Lomahan is a 2015 graduate of the BA in Public Health program and a current MPH in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) School of Public Health.  As a high school student, she wanted to pursue a career in international health, which led her to the public health degree at UIC.

Her work in Zambia started in June 2015, where she spent three months in training, learning local languages and engaging in technical training on malaria and health promotion.  Once on site in Northern Province, Lomahan led a community assessment documenting needs and assets.  Working with a rural health center, she trained community health leaders to work in their own villages ensuring mosquito nets were used properly as a malaria prevention tool.

This training work was a natural outgrowth of Lomahan’s practicum experience in the BA in Public Health program, where she taught an introduction to public health course at an alternative high school in Humboldt Park.

One of the needs Lomahan honed in on was lack of a secondary school to serve a number of villages in the area.  She worked with community leaders to build a plan for sustainable operations for the school before moving forward with a building project.

“I wanted to see the community would take this project on as their own so it wouldn’t stop when I left,” Lomahan said. “All the surrounding villages were coming together to mold bricks and showing their financial support for this project.”

With Peace Corps funding for a roof, cement and other building materials, construction finished in July 2017.  The school opened with three classrooms serving 230 students.  Now, local leaders are aiming to add on another grade to continue expanding educational access.

For me as an outsider coming into this village, I had to recognize it’s easy to pinpoint what you think some of the issues are in the community. I had to take a step back and listen to what the community needed, where most of their effort was focused.

Sarah Lomahan  |  BA in Public Health '15, MPH in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology student

As a student in the MPH in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology program, Lomahan is building understanding of disparities and root causes of in infant mortality in the Chicago area, particularly among Black women.  Her studies build on her global health work with women seeking prenatal care.

“I want some of my future work to address some of these stark differences, making sure there is an equitable playing ground for everybody,” Lomahan said. “I’m interested in numbers and understanding data trends, but behind the numbers are actual people and their lives.”

Community-led construction of Ngoli Day Secondary School Heading link

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