Improving Health Systems Globally

Adeyemi Okunogbe

It was Adeyemi Okunogbe’s childhood dream to become a doctor. But after practicing medicine for two years, he realized he wanted to make a different impact.

“I realized how positive change at the system level would improve population health and make medical care more effective and efficient,” says Okunogbe, MS’12. “Many of my patients couldn’t pay for their medical bills or buy their drugs, and were living in poverty and unhealthy environments. By working to influence health policy, I thought I could help change that.”

That’s why he chose Heller’s MS in Global Health Policy and Management program, which provided him with the health systems framework and social justice paradigm with which he has approached his work in global health. He has worked at the RAND Corporation and the World Bank and is currently at RTI International, an independent nonprofit research institute.

At RTI, he is a health systems specialist in the Global Health Division, and provides technical assistance in strengthening health systems, health economics and health financing to projects in low- and middle-income countries. His current portfolio includes Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, the Philippines and his home country of Nigeria. In Uganda, for example, he is working on a political economy analysis on the opportunities and challenges of integrating neglected tropical diseases into the Ugandan health system.

Okunogbe credits Heller for setting him on the path to his current role.

“Heller was where I first understood health policy, its linkages to global health, and the social justice issues around global health,” he says. “Heller helped me choose a focus on research to provide rigorous evidence that health policymakers can use to make meaningful decisions.”

He credits his mentor, Associate Professor Diana Bowser, as well as faculty members like MS Program Director Allyala Nandakumar and Professor Donald Shepard, for serving as role models and giving him opportunities to conduct research.

Okunogbe worked for Bowser as a research assistant for a year after graduating from Heller before pursuing a phd from the Pardee RAND Graduate School, where he studied health financing and received his degree in fall 2018. Bowser served on his dissertation committee, and they’ve continued to work together.

Most recently, they collaborated on a World Health Organization-funded study on how financing from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has influenced investments in human resources for health across 21 countries in the eastern Mediterranean region.

“When I came to Heller, my understanding and perspective on health was limited to diagnosing and treating human ailments,” Okunogbe says. “After I graduated, I had the framework and paradigms for thinking about health policy, global health and social justice.”

Cover of Winter 2019 Heller Magazine

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 Heller magazine