Lana Meiqari

Epidemiology & Health Systems

Preface of my PhD Book

Many times across the past six years, I have asked myself several questions about the doctoral studies in general and global health in specific. In light of the ever-emerging crises and challenging times that we are facing, it seemed important to share these questions and their current answers. I hope they will be helpful for anyone embracing such a journey.

Why a PhD?

Everybody has their own stories and motives; mine started following two years working in humanitarian health relief. I headed to the Middle East once finished my master’s studies which were a hardcore quantitative training in Epidemiology. On the ground, numbers became incapable of reflecting the gravity of peoples’ basic human needs. Therefore, I started reading on qualitative-based community assessments and felt the need to develop solid qualitative skills.

Through an internet search, I found an exciting PhD program on transdisciplinary global health solutions with a project to tackle non-communicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries. A problem that I have faced first hand while caring for populations across the region as patients arrived with little or even non-existent knowledge of their health condition and medications. Furthermore, emergency medical kits had a small collection of two or three drugs, given their design to target settings suffering from infectious diseases.

Such a PhD program was a perfect opportunity. During the journey, it was necessary to remind myself that working for a PhD is an educational process to grow additional skills. At the same time, I got to appreciate the accumulation of experiences and interactions with people that shaped my character and abilities across my life.

What is the virtue of a Syrian doing research in Vietnam?

I have always worked in contexts where I know the language spoken around me. In many cases, I was the translator for foreigners, so I know very well how easily misunderstandings could happen. It was hard for me to grip the side of global work where I am the foreigner. Also, it took me a while to further realize the roots of my feelings in the well-known imposter syndrome confounded with fears of an Orientalist approach. I prepared by reading on these subjects in addition to the generous support of my mentors, friends and family. However, I was genuinely impressed by the openness of the Vietnamese people. During my first visit to Hanoi, I shared my thoughts with one researcher who gave a sincere and outstanding viewpoint. He said that, as an outsider, I come with fresh eyes and could find interesting issues that may be overlooked by the usual everyday users of the system.

Although I cannot evaluate the impact of my published contributions, I have learned a lot by going outside of my comfort zone. Next on my to-do-list is publishing the thesis summary in a Vietnamese journal to reach as many stakeholders as possible.

What about the struggles of the PhD and personal circumstances?

Doing a PhD is hard enough in normal circumstances. It is not possible to convey in words what it means to add the personal package: watching your home country and its people crushed, trying to make sense of the world and your place in it, and facing the hidden traumas within you and your closed ones.

Above all, I was lucky to have ended up in Vietnam: a post-war country. I was puzzled by the resilience and forgiveness of the Vietnamese people. On the other hand, I made a conscious decision to limit my online interactions with old friends and acquaintance, who are now spread all over the world. In one way, it was a selfish decision to protect myself from further and continuous trauma. Also, I felt helpless in supporting anyone without taking care of myself. I cannot tell if these decisions were correct or not. I am still trying to find my way. However, I am blessed by the enormous support, especially from my circle of loved ones.

What is next?

I do not know! In terms of global health, the following tweet from Devi Sridhar summarized my understanding of the field: “Global health doesn’t mean flying off to remote places or to poor countries in order to transfer knowledge. It can mean working wherever you are (whether it be Glasgow, Chicago or Delhi) on local health issues affected by global processes.” This outlook opens an endless spectrum of possibilities in which I can use my skills, either locally or internationally. One key issue I have learned is the importance of being in a supportive, positive and determined team.

Finally, I do not claim to have answers to all my questions. There are many things that I could have handled better, and many others that I am still learning. For now, as someone shared with me a relevant quote for Shakespeare: All’s Well That Ends Well.

Lana Meiqari
The Hague 25/August/2020