Growing up in a Nigerian-American household, Chinonye “Chi Chi” Egbulem MPH, MSW, was aware of her family’s hopes and expectations for her to pursue hard sciences, despite feeling drawn to social justice and public health. As an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Chi Chi attempted hard science classes, but quickly realized that her family would need to accept that this was not her path.
Finding a Path in Global Health:
After a semester long study abroad experience with the School for International Training in a Global Health & Development Policy Program in Switzerland, Chi Chi knew she wanted to pursue a career in global health. With SIT, Chi Chi embraced travel and took advantage of visiting Morocco and France. Upon graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies with a concentration in Global Health & the Environment from UNC, Chi Chi joined the Peace Corps as a Community Health Development Volunteer in Burkina Faso. She describes her time in Burkina Faso as “a life-changing experience” where she worked to “build leadership capacity and improve organization and administration of health delivery services at the local health center.”
While serving as a PCV, Chi Chi witnessed firsthand the importance and critical need for both public health and social work outside of the local maternity center, where she witnessed a young mother grieving the loss of her son, who had died from malaria. It was this experience that reinforced the importance of social determinants of health for Chi Chi, as she recognized that such a tragedy “could have easily been averted with a mosquito net, a well-balanced diet, and an early medical evaluation as soon as she recognized that her child had febrile symptoms.” Chi Chi realized that if social conditions are not addressed, the health of a community suffers, and she decided to return to school to complete a dual degree in public health and social work.
It was this experience that reinforced the importance of social determinants of health for Chi Chi, as she recognized that such a tragedy “could have easily been averted with a mosquito net, a well-balanced diet, and an early medical evaluation as soon as she recognized that her child had febrile symptoms.”
Expanding Her Education and Collaborating with Partners Abroad:
As a dual-degree graduate student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Chi Chi received clinical field experience alongside medical, law, nursing, and pharmacy students. At the President’s Clinic, along with a team of students, she helped to evaluate children with digestive disorders. This experience reinforced the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration to maximize efficiency in public health settings.
Chi Chi also conducted research with faculty and an interdisciplinary team of 13 students representing the fields of social work, law, public health, and nursing. Together the team partnered with colleagues at the University of Haifa in Israel, where they examined the historical relevance of social movements and social struggles and engaged with faculty and students from both universities in joint research and action projects: “This opportunity to gain a more nuanced understanding of the complex relationship between social justice and health issues heightened my awareness of the social justice concerns in Baltimore and emphasized the global/local approach that can be used to broaden how we find solutions to address health and social disparities anywhere in the world.” As a Fellow, Chi Chi conducts similar research today that expands on social determinants of health in Uganda.
“This opportunity to gain a more nuanced understanding of the complex relationship between social justice and health issues heightened my awareness of the social justice concerns in Baltimore and emphasized the global/local approach that can be used to broaden how we find solutions to address health and social disparities anywhere in the world.”
Chi Chi’s Role as a PHI/CDC Global Health Fellow:
As a PHI/CDC Global Health Fellow focused on HIV Prevention, Chi Chi supports PEPFAR Uganda’s violence prevention and response portfolio- working on quality assurance for Gender Based Violence (GBV) to improve post violence care. She has collaborated on national and international-level projects to conduct evaluations & contribute to capacity-building training and technical assistance projects. She is also the ME&L Team Leader of a non-profit organization based in South Africa where she ensures an appropriate monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system is in place and is functioning satisfactorily. One of Chi Chi’s CDC Mentors in Uganda, Rose Apondi was recently profiled on CDC’s Global HIV & Tuberculosis page.
A highlight of her fellowship in Uganda so far has been serving as CDC’s point of contact for their 16 Days of Awareness against GBV campaign in December 2019. Chi Chi hosted two Facebook Live Sessions held at the US Embassy in Kampala and “interviewed amazing Ugandans doing great work to combat the high prevalence of violence.” View the first and the second sessions.
In Fort Portal Uganda, Chi Chi along with CDC Uganda’s Director and several staff marched through the city, where they were received by the District Chairperson, members of Parliament, religious leaders, representatives from the Human Rights Commission, the Executive Director (ED) Baylor-Uganda, Resident State Attorney, and leaders from other districts including the Tooro Kingdom. At the event, “GBV survivors shared the long-term benefits of receiving support from our PEPFAR-supported programs…[and] the CDC Country Director accompanied district leaders and stakeholders to the center of the arena to sign a commitment pact to end GBV.” Read more about CDC Uganda’s work in global health here.
The photos above are from one CDC Uganda’s implementing partners- Baylor’s Day of Gender-Based Violence Awareness and Advocacy Campaign.
Chi Chi’s Advice for Future Fellows:
*Build your personal brand.
*Don’t lose yourself in the process of trying to build your career.
*Stand out from the crowd all the while demonstrating your passions, skills, and knowledge.
About Chi Chi:
Chinonye “Chi Chi” Egbulem MPH, MSW, is a current second year PHI/CDC Global Health Fellow based in Kampala, Uganda. She spent the first year of her fellowship in Eswatini and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso. Chi Chi speaks French and holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and an MPH/MSW from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Chi Chi describes herself as a “polyglot career woman who enjoys working to combine big data with stories for compelling content…[with a passion for] working with vulnerable populations, particularly victims of gender-based violence and children with trauma-induced developmental delays.” She welcomes people to connect with her on LinkedIn.
-Whitney Hall, Administration & Communications Specialist