Dr Emmanuel Soma

Emmanuel was able to study in London thanks to support from Chevening and Goodenough College, and his new skills are being put to good use back home in South Sudan.

Dr Emmanuel Soma, a graduate from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and London School of Economics (LSE), completed his MSc in Health Policy, Planning and Financing (HPPF), in 2020. Here Emmanuel describes his time in London and the impact his studies have had on his life and on others.

Coming from South Sudan, a country ravaged by years of conflict and in dire need of health policies to steer the country towards health sustainability, I was drawn to the HPPF course offered by two great London institutions. However, were it not for the Chevening Scholarship studying in London would not have been possible. I was also incredibly privileged to receive a Goodenough Scholarship which enabled me and my wife to stay at Goodenough College, a world class postgraduate hall of residence close to both LSHTM and LSE in the centre of London. Following my studies I am back home in South Sudan and currently working for UNICEF as the Maternal and Newborn Health Officer based in the country’s head office in Juba, South Sudan.

Having completed my medical degree in Kenya in 2013, my initial plan was to practice a few years, get back to do either a Masters in Surgery or OBS/GYN and then offer back my services to South Sudan as one of the few doctors available. However, this dream started to turn bleak in 2015 when I came face to face with the challenges of a crippled health system. With a poorly paid health workforce, and a clear need to strengthen public health and health systems, the country was struggling to sustain clinical practice.

My experiences shifted my focus on to the need to provide solutions from a public health perspective and help support policy development – contributing in a small way towards changing the narrative. I was grateful to work with various NGOs and in time felt the need to add to my knowledge and pursue a Masters degree, which was when I discovered the HPPF course offered at LSHTM and LSE.

I considered applying to various scholarship schemes but the Chevening Scholarship, which provides a full scholarship for any course in a UK university, appealed to me the most. Chevening is quite competitive as it looks for future leaders and provides its Scholars with opportunities for networking and a cultural exchange while they are pursuing their masters course. Thankfully I decided to apply and was accepted for the 2018 intake, only to have to defer for a year, due to a non-conclusive TB test. Amazingly Chevening was willing to be flexible and deferred my scholarship to the 2019 intake.

I have much to write about Goodenough College but in short can simply describe my stay as “amazing”. The location saved me the cost of travelling on the Tube and I got to class on time while keeping fit. Goodenough College provides Scholarships to subsidise the cost of its accommodation and I was blessed to be one of the beneficiaries, living in a comfortable studio apartment with my wife for the entire year. Great networks were established over meals at the Great Hall, with the College offering sumptuous meals and from time to time free “dining in” events for the entire College.

I really appreciated the social and intellectual life of the College. Goodenough encourages all the performing arts and there were opportunities to be part of all sorts of different clubs and societies. From time to time the College hosted “Port Talks” where special guests gave unique talks on various topics, one that I do remember vividly was on ‘the origin of race’. Music is a big part of life in the College and it was blessed with various skilled musicians living there. Being a saxophone player myself I had a good time playing away in the music rooms (and during lockdown from my room), and, despite the pandemic, I did still manage to play in College organised event.

I enjoyed my academic studies in London immensely and I benefited richly from the two different approaches to learning at LSHTM and LSE. The lectures were always interesting and we had different visiting lecturers each week from whom we would try to garner as much knowledge as possible from their experience. I personally enjoyed the study groups which gave me an opportunity for closer peer interaction that I found enriching. I also received sufficient support from my tutor to complete my thesis and am thankful for having graduated with a MSc in Health Policy, Planning and Financing. I must say the course was great preparation for my current role with UNICEF where I am the Maternal and Newborn Health Officer for South Sudan and the focal point for the implementation of a World Bank funded project on the Provision of Essential Health Services in two states in South Sudan (Jonglei and Upper Nile). I feel fully confident in my role and I now ascribe much value to the use of evidence-based approaches in program implementation. I look forward to more engagements at policy level within the UN and in support towards the South Sudan Ministry of Health initiatives.

Coming to the UK opened my perspective on life, health and academia. Having gone through the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic while doing my course, it built in me a strong spirit and determination to succeed in the midst of challenges. I have learnt the importance of working with people from all walks of life, faith and ambition and knowing how to listen first to everyone’s story. I am now more passionate about living life to the fullest and taking each day as an opportunity to make a difference. I would definitely recommend anyone to come study in the UK more so on a Chevening Scholarship and if you happen to choose to study in London I recommend applying to stay at Goodenough College.