Dr Cassandra Akinde is multiple award winning social entrepreneur and child advocate. She is a young medical doctor with a burning passion for preventive medicine, digital health and humanitarian causes . She obtained an MBBS (Bachelor’s in Medicine and Surgery) degree from the prestigious University of Lagos in 2016 and recently got certified by Lagos Business School (Pan Atlantic University) on Non profit Leadership and Management.
Dr Akinde is currently the Team Lead for The Neo Child Initiative, a nonprofit which promotes child health awareness and sustainable education by improving access to healthcare and mentorship . Her work centres on helping these children understand that sound education and good health are vital determinants in ensuring their success as future leaders .
In her years of working with The Neo Child Initiative, she and her team have reached out to over 10,000 children in schools on SDG education by organising interschool essay competitions, workshops, research masterclasses , seminars and capacity building programmes.
She has been nominated severally for her humanitarian accomplishments and health advocacy works. She is a Global Goodwill Ambassador for Health Advocacy in Nigeria , SDGs Youth Advocate and also the current Childhood Cancer Ambassador for The Dorcas cancer Foundation.
She was recently awarded the prestigious Chevening Scholarship by Foreign and Commonwealth Office to further her studies in Tropical Medicine and International Health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine .
In her spare time , she loves to read , watch movies , engage in sports , spend quality time with friends, attend art exhibitions and travel.
Interviewer: You’re a medical doctor and health advocate. Could you tell us more about yourself, in relation to your family background and childhood growth?
Cassandra Akinde(C.A): My name is Cassandra Akinde. I am the last child in a family of four. My parents and only brother all have medical backgrounds. Therefore, health advocacy is not a choice but a lifestyle. My childhood really played a major role in my life as I was raised a humanitarian. My parents are the biggest inspiration behind what I do now. I remember as a child I would follow my mother to church where she was always assigned one task or another for the congregation.One event which stood fresh in my memory was a day I accompanied my mother and my brother to an orphanage for the first time. It was our turn to help out in church by providing relief materials for the children. I met a young girl who was suffering from cerebral palsy. Part of the activities included in the program was collective engagment in pottery work. We made a very beautiful clay pot. On seeing my admiration and wistful face, she selflessly gave it to me I was so startled, but she insisted on i keeping it. She was elated giving me the pot. This event is a memorable one to me, the moment I decided and acknowledged giving was more fulfilling than receiving. My journey and pursuit to making social impact began. I kept coming back to play, teach and engage them in various games and artworks over the years.
Interviewer: The medical profession is an admired one in Nigeria and medical doctors are most cherished not only in Nigeria but the world generally. Unfortunately, the expensive nature and educational system in Nigeria, where getting the required grade is not even enough to get into the medical field, This has cut short dreams of amazing youth. Was this also a concern or challenge for you, and how did you land the course of study in the university?
C.A: It’s quite unfortunate that our educational system in Nigeria is not as strong as it should be. It is also not helpful that, due to misconceptions, most youth are narrow minded and can`t afford to explore other professions as a result of family and peer pressure. The job opportunities for other fields are not forthcoming either so it is a really saddening turn of events. Becoming a medical doctor was a natural and passionate journey. I joined the Science class and always excelled in almost all the subjects especially Biology and Chemistry. Similarly, when writing JAMB and post UME, it was another walk in the park. I have a believe, I was destined by God to walk this path.
Interviewer: What inspired the name, The Tropical Doctor?
C.A: When I arrived for my masters course in Tropical Medicine and International Health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, I appreciated the course more because it was specially adapted for doctors working in developing countries which are often isolated from medical colleges and the latest developments in medicine and healthcare. It provided an ideal medical expertise and practical advice on how to apply current medical knowledge to the special circumstances of developing countries. Most importantly, I got crucial information on the prevention, management and treatment of prevalent diseases in tropical and developing countries. Owing to this, I intend to use the brand on social media for health advocacy and to share my knowledge with my peers.
Interviewer: As the Team lead of an NGO aimed at improving access to healthcare and mentorship for children in underserved communities, The Neo Child Initiative, could you tell us more about the work and impacts of the organisation?
C.A: The Neo Child Initiative began with the simple vision of providing a platform that would create a brighter and rewarding future for children. Since its foundation by Dr Yusuf Shittu, it has become much bigger than that. It is now a large volunteer-based platform for transforming the lives of Nigerian children by improving their access to healthcare and mentorship and building the capacity of young people to be change makers and leaders. I began as a volunteer who caught the vision, committed to the vision and slowly climbed to the leadership position of overseeing the team of vibrant young people eager to make a positive change. With interests in Child Health promotion, Development Education and Mentorship, the team mentors children in schools, engages them with the Sustainable Development Goals, and brings healthcare within the reach of children in underserved and low income communities. Through our annual Essay Competition on SDGs for Secondary School students, winners are matched with mentor organisations. Since inception, we have reached up to 10,000 children with essential healthcare services including Malaria Screening, Dental Checks, Vaccination, Deworming and Essential Drugs in five communities across Lagos. The organisation has also educated about 5,000 children and teenagers directly on the Sustainable Developmental Goals through talk sessions in schools and at three competition grand finales. We are also currently mentoring our fourth cohort of 17 Global Goal Ambassadors who make me proud with their exciting social impact projects and innovations. They are each influencing other students in their schools and setting great examples for them to follow.
Interviewer: The theme for this year’s International Women’s day 2020 is “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Womens Rights. The emerging global consensus is that despite some progress, real change has been agonizingly slow for the majority of women and girls. What’s your view on this?
C.A: I believe that the narrative surrounding women’s rights in 2020 carries much hope and possibility than it did a decade ago. Changing norms and social behaviour takes a lot of time and can be a gradual process. Progress is occurring regarding harmful practices such as child marriage and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), which has declined by 30% in the past decade, but there is still much work to be done to completely eliminate such practices. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large. Implementing new legal frameworks regarding female equality in the workplace and the eradication of harmful practices targeted at women is crucial to ending the gender-based discrimination prevalent in many countries around the world. Similarly, empowering women through storytelling and positive reinforcement of achievements do plant seeds of change as well.
Interviewer: World Health Organization stated that gender equality must be at the core of “Health for All”. Despite the improvements made, a high percentage of women, especially in remote areas, still lack access to quality health service. What’s your take on how we could bridge this gap, get access to better health services and how it could play a huge role in reducing inequality?
C.A: “Gender inequality damages the physical and mental health of millions of girls and women across the globe, and also of boys and men despite the many tangible benefits it gives men through resources, power, authority and control. Because of the numbers of people involved and the magnitude of the problems, taking action to improve gender equity in health and to address women’s rights to health is one of the most direct and potent ways to reduce health inequities and ensure effective use of health resources” – World Health Organization. I believe actions like adopting multi-level strategies to change social norms and, most importantly, working with boys and men to transform masculinist values and behaviours that harm womens health and their own.
Interviewer: Which woman are you inspired by in your local community and across the globe?
C.A: I get inspired daily by women all over the world achieving success in all their endeavours despite the setbacks of their background, culture , disability and traditions. Locally, I would mention Gusi Tobi Lordwilliams, Hauwa Ojeifoh, Doyinsola Ogunye, Yetunde Fadeyi, Ndidi Nwuneli, and Osayi Alile who are all trendsetters in making social impact in Nigeria.
Globally, I would say Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. Her activism on gender equality and raising issues about womens matters through her voice, writing and platform is highly commendable.
Interviewer: You are a Chevening scholar currently studying in the prestigious London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Could you share your experience being a scholar and adapting to the new environment?
C.A: Being a Chevening Scholar is like a lifetime achievement award for me. I was hand-picked because of my potential as future leader and decision-maker. I have fully embraced the spirit of Chevening which represents collaborative work, international cooperation, and friendship. It is a privilege for me to study and be taught and supervised by some of the biggest names in Global Health. Adapting to the new academic environment was difficult at first due the new and high expectations in the UK but, with my culture of hardwork, I am coping much better.
Interviewer: What’s your favourite book and movie?C.A: My favourite book is Pride and Prejudice.
My favourite movie is Miss Congeniality .
Interviewer: What’s your message to the girl child out there?C.A: Whenever you see a fellow girl being treated unfairly because of her gender, speak out, use your voice, create an action and support her with all your might. We rise by lifting others and without inclusion and unity, there is low chance of success in the promotion of gender equality globally.
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