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Staff Spotlight: Stephen Atasige

Stephen Atasige — an experienced epidemiologist turned advocate — serves as in-country coordinator of the Global Health Advocacy Incubator’s (GHAI) Prevent Epidemics program in Ghana. In this role, he works with civil society to support government investment in epidemic preparedness.

Atasige assumed his role with GHAI in November 2020 after consulting for the World Health Organization (WHO) on COVID-19 response in Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea. He previously was a pillar manager on the Ebola response in West Africa and a technical advisor on health security projects in Liberia, Gambia and Sierra Leone supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through the African Field Epidemiology Network. Atasige also has experience working with the Ghana Health Service, Save the Children and other international institutions.

What drew you to working as an advocate?

Over my years of professional experience, I have been a trainer, technical advisor and leader during emergency response operations with international organizations, working closely with ministries of health and health agencies. I have had to problem solve through many challenges that were policy-related and required action by decision makers. I have also observed a number of scenarios where capacity building and logistics support from partners to countries have not had the desired impact due to existing national policies. This is indicative of how crucial advocacy for policy change is to health system strengthening.

Even though some level of advocacy has always been required to achieve positive outcomes in my work, I thought it would be an exciting and useful experience to join a full-scale health advocacy campaign with GHAI’s Prevent Epidemics program. Working as an advocate allows me to learn and help to address health policy-related bottlenecks that hinder the efforts of health professionals to achieve positive outcomes. Also, this work equips me to build advocacy capacity within my professional sphere and beyond.

How does your background in epidemiology inform your advocacy work?

Epidemiology involves an evidence-based approach, as well as systematic planning and teamwork to solve public health challenges. In those respects, it is very similar to advocacy. I have experience in preparing and responding to disease outbreaks as well as strengthening public health systems in low-resource settings in West, East, Central and Southern Africa. This gives me a clear understanding of the policy-related constraints within public health systems, and enabled me to conduct a well-focused landscape analysis which has informed the locally led advocacy campaign GHAI is supporting in Ghana.

My background has allowed me to review technical information on epidemic preparedness financing and support our partners as they craft advocacy messages that reflect how the epidemic preparedness and response system operates in Ghana, and highlight opportunities to strengthen it. My background also enables me to make a compelling case for sustainable government investments in epidemic preparedness in media interviews and other interactions with stakeholders.

What accomplishment are you particularly proud of?

Among several professional accomplishments, one I am particularly proud of is my contribution to the Ebola response and the strengthening of public health systems in Liberia and Sierra Leone where I was part of early deployments when the outbreak was at its peak. I served as an infection prevention and control coordination lead within the epicenter in Sierra Leone. In 2015, I built the capacity of frontline health workers in Liberia as an epidemiology consultant for CDC through the African Field Epidemiology

Network. I contributed to strengthening the disease surveillance and response system of the country. I am proud of the positive outcomes our work achieved during those challenging times.

What are you most excited about in your role with GHAI?

It has been an exciting experience working with GHAI in Ghana, beginning with the assessment phase, when I engaged with technical and political decision-makers within government and non-governmental organizations.

The most exciting aspect of my role with GHAI is having to work in a team with varied expertise, synergized towards implementing the advocacy campaign on epidemic preparedness financing in Ghana. I am contributing to communications strategies, legal analysis, coalition building and mobilization – all of it in service of locally led efforts to strengthen the capacity of civil society, media and other stakeholders to make the case for government investments in epidemic preparedness.

What is your message to health advocates in Ghana and around the world?

Advocacy in Ghana has proven to work; there are many instances where advocacy has contributed to policy change. Health advocates specifically have contributed to Ghana’s health policy framework. Persuading political decision-makers to think in ways they otherwise would not requires coalition building and mobilization efforts around the health problems that affect Ghana and the world.

Following the launch of the Global Health Security Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals on health, greater commitment is expected by governments. Ongoing global health crises have further justified the ambitious goals on health, including the call by the WHO for increased investments in epidemic preparedness and response by countries within the context of the Global Health Security Agenda. Persistence, strategic planning and coalition building is required to effectively engage decision-makers to change health policies for better health outcomes. This calls for health advocates in Ghana and around the world to join in the efforts. The importance of health advocates cannot be overstated.

Learn more about our Prevent Epidemics program to build support for government investments in epidemic preparedness.