The images you have of me. Mother, researcher, doing work in far away places. All of them are true. But those that are invisible. Everything hidden, under, and in between the lines like Toni Morrison’s invisible ink, are the bones that keep me tall and erect. One day, I will leave you hoping to see just how the story unfolds. What scenery passes through my window daily or whether i truly kiss the night air. Only that it would just be the beginning of the day in which all that I am to become, everything buried deeply within me, oozes forth like an ache.

I am possible, today, tomorrow, and forever, because I know my dreams, and my dreams go on dreaming, unbroken, unfettered, unafraid. They look to rivers and mountains, parks and creeks for inspiration that some call ambitious. Then they see struggles, all sorts of strife and pain lurking by the doorway, asking if we would like to come in. We do. Falling deeply into depths we pray will not leave us powerless. Not when we know what lies within us, all that cries out to arise from these depths we find ourselves in. We do, reaching for the skies above, hoping this wasn’t a dream. Dreams are always wasted if you don’t dream again. So we do, dreaming still that what lies hidden, everything under and in between the lines, remain unbroken, unfettered, unafraid, now that we touch all that aches within us.

My presentation today went well. We need more dreamers in global health.

Ambition to me is tied to what Ngugi wa Thiongo once described as a ‘quest for relevance.’ It is a search for a liberating perspective within which to see ourselves clearly in relationship to ourselves and to the other selves in the universe. He would go on to suggest that this question depends on the choice of material and the attitude to or interrogation of that material. How we see things, even with our own eyes, is very much dependent on where we stand in relationship to it. To him, any strong desire to achieve or do something is inherently laced with a language of struggle. And this struggle starts even from the beginning.

Sustaining global health, becoming ambitious with whatever you choose to do in this field is all about taking a leap into the land of struggle. It’s that struggle that ultimately makes you begin wherever you are, do whatever you can, to become part of the generation crazy enough to think they can change the world. I am very ambitious with global health, naming it, sharing it, so that I not only see myself clearly but work with like minded people to make the global more relevant than ever, changing how we all see it too, one story at a time. And yes, it is full of struggles, full of thinking that I can really change the world with fully-funded projects that last. How I am working to mobilize people to embrace these crazy ideas with global health is at the heart of my upcoming talk on Tuesday April 26th. It’s my hope that if you join us, you may learn ways to sustain your crazy ideas with global health, even in the midst of storms.

Langston Hughes has a poem of how a seed at the right time, produces flower, which goes on to become more than the seed ever imagined. ⁣

Imagine if the path out of the pandemic was like a seed. Imagine how we will blossom when we become flowers. All because we took the time to first plant the seed. ⁣

For people’s health, with this pandemic, we should be like seeds planted and watered by people (and not solely experts) who tell us which way to go.

Where there are no attention to the public, the path out of the pandemic is hopeless.

We have being fighting this virus for close to 2 years next year. It keeps winning. My opinion, physicians are to blame.

No, I do not hate physicians. I am married to one. We started to have a debate about this during Thanksgiving and let’s just say the physicians in the house proved my point.

My opinion again, the absence of public health people, not to be equated as presence of medically trained people only, are to blame.

As someone who calls themselves a public health expert, our absence in this pandemic is part of the problem. We are no where to be found. The physicians have taken up all the oxygen they can and will continue to use it while the path out of the pandemic remains hopeless.

Do you know who really vaccinated people, with small pox vaccination for example? You guessed it, not only physicians but community health workers.

Ooh, what about polio vaccines in many parts of the world, right again, community health workers were there too. Yet these same community health workers have no spokesperson at your nightly news forum, speaking precisely and with clarity about how they work to address a community’s health, people’s health, the public’s health. Even community health is nowhere to be found and behavior does not occur in a vacuum or in interactions with doctors and patients alone. They seldom do, and focusing on them alone is why the path out of this pandemic will remain hopeless.

The fact that we keep hearing only how great the vaccine adds to the problem. It is great, one of the best vaccines ever made. But how about hearing how great masks are? They are excellent, and an excellent protection for others and oneself with the virus. Even research show that face masks significantly reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection compared to social distancing. We find a very low risk of infection when everyone wears a face mask, even if it doesn’t fit perfectly on the face. Imagine that, you don’t want a COVID-19, wear a mask.

And don’t let me get started with at home or self-testing. I am just curious who in the right mind told the US government that asking your insurance company to reimburse the Binax kit you bought from Sams club for $14 will motivate you to want to test? Do you ask your insurance company to reimburse you for the pregnancy kit you both for your self, or even the blood pressure measuring devise you use at home?

Common sense is not even being used anyone and yes I blame it on the absence of public health experts. In fact it drove me to want to explore what went wrong with our field and why are we now where to be found. Truth is public health as a field, has been no where for a long time when all we do is speak to ourselves at conferences and publish papers in our journals for ourselves only. No member of the public talks to each other with introductions, methods, results and discussion. No one. We have also been no where when even the journal we publish all our work in are not even open access or accessible to the public we serve. And we have been no where when all we do is serve our resumes and impact factors and not center even the public in public health.

The time has come for change and changing how we speak to the public is key. Using words, creatively, for me is like air, true necessity for reaching the public today. With public health, I’ll rather use words to reach you, than teach you about grey skies you see with your eyes. Grey skies like the racist bans on African countries from flying to the US and other European countries. Truth is everything will always be nothing for people and places that treat us like the heart of darkness. So don’t waste time searching for water as if they don’t see Africa like a desert. Until the vaccine arrives, wear a mask. This is a public health message that is easy and should be shared widely. And for people’s health, we should be wide open and let people tell us which way to go.

I liked a paper shared on Twitter yesterday. It focused on why decolonizing geosciences mattered. I loved everything I read that I felt it was critical to keep some. The fact that we have been told that certain ways of knowing and doing are superior resonated deeply with me. That and the fact that for eons we have been told that local or indigenous ways of knowing are inferior. That experts are only outsiders with resources, and if they are coming from the West, even better. That expertise can’t come from insiders, those who carry treasures of their life within their core. Yet to address harm and change how science is done, we must deeply recognize how colonialism have benefited experts and not those with expertise for whom knowledge first belonged to.

This paper is a perfect example of why stories matters with any attempt at decolonizing anything and any field. The hunt has glorified the hunters for too long that all we know are the stories of the colonizers, the stories of the experts, the stories of the hunter. This is my attempt at changing this with this article and the work of many great minds as an inspiration. I simply call it tell your story with decolonizing anything, somethings, or everything. We have nothing to lose these days and so we might as well strut like the lions we are.

With decolonization, tell your story, they say.

While the legacy of the hunt lingers.

Tell your story, they say.

Or the hunt will continue to glorify the hunters.

Tell your story, I hear. The hunter has failed everyone, including those being hunted.

But you can’t decolonize anything. You can’t decolonize somethings. You can’t decolonize everything.

It’s a myth.

It’s a myth.

It’s a myth.

And decolonizing should mean much more said the powerful as they wield their power in powerful spaces they erect and maintain to keep telling the stories of the hunter, to maintain their power.

Yet, we know that we can’t decolonize powerful spaces.

We can’t decolonize powerful people.

They are hunters. Their weapons are mightier. Their impact last longer than a day.

But while the debate about the myth of decolonizing remains, while the powerful even join and lead the debate, are we supposed to be silent?

Are we supposed to watch and stare as they continue to cast their shadow?

Are we supposed to live as if we don’t have our own historians?

Are we supposed to continue to forget that we are lions? No.

Rather, the time has come for the lions to tell their story.

The time has come for the lions to have their own historians.

Like a tale by moonlight, let me begin with the following;

Story, story, story.

Story, story, story.

Story, story, story.

With history, be prepared to construct and reconstruct it from a different perspective, a Black perspective, an African perspective too. Our stories have been told to us by others for far too long that this time, the lions are ready to take the stage. The complexities and racist histories of colonialism is finally taking center stage with this global pandemic. Variants of it has been there from the beginning, though swept under the rug of globalism. It is rather a class on colonialism and this time, there are no more slaves in this version of history. No more white people selling bodies for profit. No more tantrums from leaders disguised as fit but truly unfit. Plus no more pretense as if we are all in this together. We are not. The inequities with vaccine distribution was clue number 1. Number 2, the injustice with flight bans.

With Omicron variant surging through countries both in Asia and Europe, why is a travel ban only issued for countries in Southern Africa? This is the truth about decolonizing Global Health worth spreading, plain and perfect. Powerful leaders will always be leaders with power. They will do and claim to do what is always in their best interest even if this interest serves only their needs. Anyone expecting anything less has not been open to all the travesties that is colonialism. The emperors maybe wearing new clothes but they remain emperors, powerful ones now with subtle charm that invokes globalism when the harsh realist is individualism. They may claim change but their change is more or less like distant skies out of reach rather that streams of water in plain view. Everything about their dominant treatment of others both implicit and explicit remains true, and will always remain so during and beyond this pandemic.

The solution, lions tell your story. There will be a struggle. Embrace it. Refuse to be enslaved again and tell your story of injustices however you choose. This time, the path to pandemic freedom will be different. Not because we relied on the West, but rather because we believed in each other. I spent my morning retweeting and sharing videos of people telling the story, this time from their perspective. Dr. Ayoade Alakija’s interview with the BBC stood out to me. Watch here and see how lions are roaring to tell their stories.

I didn’t think I would cry. But seeing this day come to pass brought tears to my eyes. Finally, we honored the legacy of Dr. Jacob Plange-Rhule with the first ever prize for his contribution to the Global Research in Implementation and Translation Science Consortium. Jacob had this vision to train the next generation of scholars interested in health services research, hypertension research, especially at the community level. He was one of the pioneers of the community based salt reduction interventions for blood pressure control in Africa. He led the first studies in this field. He also led the task-shifting strategies for hypertension control in Ghana. To know him was to know a very gentle man, a very kind man, with a great personality, and a great love for all things Ghana. To think that we will never see his smile, never hear his voice, remains painful to him. But know that he will live on with this prize, fills my heart with great joy. Until we meet again, continue to Rest in the Bosom of the Lord.

This week is salt awareness week. It’s one of my personal weakness. It’s also a silent killer. Last year I worked with a group of fabulous researchers led by Dr. Oyebode to make sense of the impact of salt in Africa, Nigeria in particular. The love for salt in the region is a silent epidemic. Not only do most people add salt to their meal preparations, myself included, we also add bouillon cubes known as Maggi. In fact, I am certain that most Nigerian households would agree that a food isn’t delicious until you add more than one of these cubes to your meal preparation. I have tried to prepare meals myself with and without them. My family knew the difference.

Image from Tahir. Maggi Bouillon cubes.

One study in Sierra Leone, led by one of Dr. Oyebode’s students Tahir Bockarie noted that 91% added salt in cooking, another 40% added salt at the table, while 30% ate salty snacks. Our own pilot study highlights the same with most Nigerian men for example consuming 3.31grams of sodium per day. But how do we begin to curb this love for salt including our obsessions with cooking with these bouillon cubes. Enter hypertension. One in three Nigerian adults is hypertensive. While the World Health Organization recommends a daily sodium intake of 2 grams, Nigerians consume up to 5 times this amount at 10 grams. I had this grand idea with Dr. Oyebode that a community-driven intervention led by and for communities themselves may make a difference. We haven’t tested it out yet but we are hopeful. Hopeful that when like minds come together, we can curb our love for salt. Hopeful that when we create a sustainable platform for research with communities themselves leading the way, even our love for bouillon cubes such as Maggi can be reduced. Hopefully that with insights from the community, not only would we achieve a salt-free lifestyle, but a no high blood pressure lifestyle too. We have miles to go to test our ideas out but with Dr. Oyebode as my partner, we are well positioned to work to reduce excess salt intake globally and through a sustainable program of research. Until then and for this salt awareness week, keep eating less salt. It can literally save your life.

I have been thinking lately about good questions. What are they and why do we need to nurture and teach good questioning skills? By day, I am a global health researcher passionate and committed to asking questions, enduring ones focused on creating sustainable health interventions. I often begin with a grant. For to conduct research in a setting already limited with resources, access to funding is crucial. So to are questions, not just any questions, but good ones that lead to funding.

Good questions have helped to test the limits of my grant writing abilities. They pushed me to try everything, all the way, until I get the outcome I want, including the grants that allow me to address pressing public health issues. And when you find a good question to ask, questions that are enduring, it just so tremendous. And so I do feel a responsibility to ask these good questions. I have always felt and continue to feel that no one is really asking those tough but good questions. I remember after collecting my data for my dissertation on child malaria diagnosis, I told my participants, some mothers of children under 5, that my research has ended. Some asked why? It’s not like their child’s malaria has ended. They were right.

I am aware of the fact that it was rare and still rare to ask good questions overtime. Aware that though some may state they are interested in asking these questions, such as how might they last, they are never really prepared to go the distance. So I assumed two things: 1) good questions focused on lasting, focused on sustaining my global health work matters; and 2) if I ask these good questions, if I continue to hone in on what they entail, planning for it from the beginning, with the right people, learning what it takes, adapting where necessary but nurturing the questions overtime, then it will become universal. Good questions focused on lasting will become the norm.

I am hoping to train the next generation of scholars committed from the beginning to plan to ask good questions. My goal is to help them become prepared to roar if they choose to, with asking more enduring lasting questions. I call this PLAN or how people learn to adapt or nurture whatever good questions they may have. I finally wrote a research paper on it that I intend to submit this year. My goal with the paper is to a start the dialogue necessary to train a generation of scholars committed to making the necessary plan to become enduring questionologists.

The choice in the end is always up to us. We may choose to ask the typical questions that allow us to get by for the next 1-5 years, or we may go the distance and plan to become comfortable even with questioning the questions asked. When your goal is to remain, when your mission is to last, then asking all sorts of good questions becomes a necessity. We all have the power to think long and deep about how our questions can and should be good. We should all be willing to explore limits of the questions we ask for as long as the issues remain. For to be good, to hone in and polish the questions, to a gleaming finish is illuminating, exceptionally powerful to me. Keep asking good questions. Plan for them too as the world desperately needs them.