WHAT THEY LEARNED: Oluwatobi Alliyu ’16

The anthropology major, who minored in health studies and earned a concentration in Africana studies, researched Nigeria’s healthcare system and HIV programs for her senior thesis.

Oluwatobi Alliyu ’16 spent the past four years exploring health systems around the world. The anthropology major and health studies minor, who earned a concentration in Africana studies, explored health policy not just in her coursework, but also outside the classroom. She earned funding from both the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship for experiential internships in the field in Ghana, Nicaragua, and Thailand during her time at the College. She also developed a health-based curriculum for Philadelphia high schools as an intern at Lankenau Hospital and assessed access to care for African and Caribbean immigrants in Philadelphia as a volunteer for the African Family Health Organization.

Alliyu was born and partially raised in Nigeria, and, when developing her thesis topic, she chose a focus that was close to home. The resulting paper, “Linking Policy to Real World: Exploring Policy Objectives of HIV Program Funders in Nigeria,” probes the practical results of the country’s HIV policies.

“As a person interested in efforts to strengthen health systems in low resource settings, I wanted to use my thesis to explore and learn more about Nigeria’s healthcare system, particularly, to gain a better understanding of why national and transnational efforts to improve care—using HIV/AIDS care as a case study—continue to lead to suboptimal results.”

Alliyu’s passion for international healthcare access hasn’t dimmed because she graduated. In fact, she is committed to making it her life’s work, starting with her new job as as a Global Health Corp (GHC) fellow. Based in New York as a population health officer for the next year, she is part of a larger community of emerging leaders building a movement for health equity. After her fellowship is finished, she plans to pursue a doctorate in health policy.

“My four years here have been a great learning experience—more than I could’ve ever imagined,” she says. “[They] have encouraged me to dream big and built my confidence in the work that I do and what I study. I’m very grateful for the support I’ve received from the Haverford community.”


What did you learn from working on your thesis?

I learned that the Nigerian health sector needs to critically appraise its response to its HIV/AIDS epidemic. Intentional efforts to do this outside the parameters or guidelines set by international donors—indicative of better national ownership—must take place in order for optimal health outcomes to become a reality. There has to be more government ownership—financially and initiative-development wise. National and transnational attempts to improve health outcomes in Nigeria have resulted in suboptimal health outcomes primarily because of lack of government ownership. By lack of ownership, I mean that the government has not taken the time to critically appraise the reality of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria as well as the country’s response to the epidemic. I also learnt that global health science both generates and relies upon inequalities. I learnt that good intentions and compassionate action are not immune to the power imbalances and the inequalities as is the case with transnational efforts to fight HIV/AIDs in Nigeria.

How did your advisor help you develop your topic, conduct your research, or interpret your results?

As a medical anthropologist himself who has extensive experience with HIV through his own personal work, my advisor Chris Roebuck had a lot of knowledge to offer. He was also very helpful with helping me to strike a balance between the ethnographic and academic analysis aspects of my paper—that is, balancing vignettes of interviews I conducted while doing research in Nigeria with the economic, political, social, and historical analysis of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.