Dr. Muhammad Homayoon Manochehr, graduate from Masters of Public Health Program in the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) at the American University of Beirut (AUB) as part of the Tropical Diseases Research (TDR) postgraduate training scheme, was nominated by FHS to participate in the Joint coordinating board meeting held at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, during which he discussed the findings of his research on Tuberculosis (TB) in Lebanon, a paper that was done during his time at AUB and how his education at FHS and the TDR program helped him achieve what he always wanted: change.
TB is a major public health challenge in Afghanistan, with 47,406 case notifications in 2017, according to WHO. While working at the national TB control program, Manochehr noticed the TB case notification rate rising, but had limited tools to address the problem in an effective way.
“I wanted to make a difference, but I didn't have the skills to analyze the data or to conduct research that would help improve the programme," stated Manochehr.
This was the primary motivation for him to pursue a master's in public health from the American University of Beirut (AUB), where many of Afghanistan's leaders were educated.
“During my master's program in 2018, I particularly appreciated the coursework on statistical analysis of data and design and analysis of epidemiological studies," stated Manochehr. “As part of the program, I applied these skills to a research project on TB control in Lebanon, focusing on migrant workers and Syrian refugees".
There he found that there was a low notification rate of TB cases as many undocumented Syrian refugees and migrant workers were afraid of being deported if they sought medical care. So it was clear that this posed a barrier to accessing TB treatment.
As a result, the research led to the conclusion that community-based awareness programmes would be necessary to inform migrant workers that a TB diagnosis would not lead to deportation and that employers should also be educated on the treatment process.
Upon returning to Afghanistan, Manochehr was well equipped to lead the change in his home country. He take on the role of senior policy adviser General Directorate of Policy and Planning in the Ministry of Public Health. One of his key responsibilities is developing evidence-based policies, policy briefs and plans of action.
Earlier this year, he developed a policy brief on expanding coverage of health services to underserved, remote areas in Afghanistan, focusing on the Family Health House model, supported by UNPFA, to serve remote areas in the country.
Manochehr's policy brief highlighted an external evaluation of the Family Health House model, which showed it is more cost effective compared with other models of health care delivery. This allowed him to recommend the expansion of Family Health Houses to cover all 10% of the underserved population.
“Given my background in TB control programmes, I felt it was very important to include these additional services," Manochehr said. “It is very rewarding to see that this policy brief has made an impact."
TDR, the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, is a global programme of scientific collaboration that helps facilitate, support and influence efforts to combat diseases of poverty. It is hosted at the World Health Organization (WHO), and is sponsored by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and WHO.
AUB is one of seven universities TDR partners with to strengthen research capacity of scientists in low- and middle-income countries burdened with infectious disease of poverty. The American University of Beirut is particularly appealing for candidates coming from countries like Afghanistan, given that public health is taught in a context where conflict and forced migration are pervasive.