International Women's Day: Dr Nasri Omar

International Women's Day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women's achievements and rally for gender equality.

To celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, throughout March we are asking some of our alumni to tell us more about themselves and their roles, as well as what the day means to them and how female role models have shaped their lives.
Dr Nasri Omar outside LSHTM Keppel Street

Dr Nasri Omar (MSc Global Mental Health, 2019) works at the Ministry of Health, Kenya. She shares her story of juggling motherhood, applying to LSHTM and working. She shares her highs and lows, along with the women that have inspired her.

“I am a mother of two girls and am also a pharmacist who worked as a clinical lead in a HIV clinic for six years at the National Psychiatric Hospital in Kenya called Mathari National Teaching & Referral Hospital. While at Mathari Hospital, I developed an interest in Mental Health precipitated by poor HIV outcomes for patients with severe mental illnesses. Together with the team at the HIV clinic, I developed interventions to improve HIV care in this vulnerable population, with about 300 patients benefiting between 2013 to 2016. The interventions are still in place to date ensuring people with mental health disorders receive quality HIV care. I knew then my passion was in mental health, even though I was competent and had a vast knowledge of HIV, my interest in mental health soared. It was like a calling (I know, I sound cliche).

“In 2015, I started looking for a master’s course to build my knowledge of mental health. I searched every website but I had never heard of a pharmacist changing career paths to mental health, so it felt like a witch hunt. Most courses I saw online were limited to clinicians or medical doctors. Finally, I found the LSHTM/KCL Global Mental Health (GMH) program, which I was eligible for. I was ecstatic! Whilst I was working in the HIV field, I became aware of LSHTM as the go-to institution for public health. I knew I wanted to go to LSHTM one day to study Public Health or Control of Infectious Diseases. Ironically, I was applying to my dream university but I was applying for a totally different course!

“l started the application process in early 2015 then found out I was expecting my second child. I had to shelf that application and try again the following year. I was a bit disappointed but as a Muslim, I believe ‘whatever is meant for you will reach you’.

“In 2016, I was accepted for the 2017/2018 intake. Now came the difficult task of looking for a scholarship. That year I got rejections on all international scholarship applications I made. I decided I was going to pay for my studies myself. My husband and I started putting our savings together and we even planned to take a bank loan to finance my studies. I applied to my employer for financial support and was granted a partial scholarship where they committed to pay 50% of my fees, which was great news as it would reduce the financial burden on us. I applied for my visa in September 2017, packed my bags, bid farewell to my friends and family. To my shock, I got a visa refusal. I was devastated, I was already late for the course and the process of resubmitting a new visa application would take time. I decided to defer the course to 2018.

“2018 came with its own issues. It's like my life was a constant rollercoaster. The 50% scholarship from my employer was withdrawn since it was approved for the academic year 2017/2018, and as I didn't use it, it was allocated to another employee. I decided to try my luck again with international scholarships, I thought if it doesn't work out this year then I might just give up, but before then I will do everything possible. I applied for four full scholarships. To my astonishment, I got all four scholarships. All the days of doubting myself and thinking maybe this wasn't meant to happen were forgotten. I am grateful to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, who sponsored my course through the prestigious Chevening Scholarship.

“I got my visa, left my family and joined the course in September 2018. What I can say is that the course shaped my career and gave me the knowledge and skills to delve into policymaking. I came back to Kenya in late November 2019 and started working for the Ministry of Health in January 2020 as the focal person for the mental health system and services. I have worked, and I am currently working on a number of projects within the Ministry of Health:

  1. Development of the report by the taskforce on mental health in Kenya
  2. Coordinated the MHPSS response during the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya
  3. Development of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy 
  4. Development of Kenya’s mental health action plan  
  5. Establishment of the national tele-mental health and suicide prevention lifeline
  6. Development of a refugee mental health program
  7. Development and operationalisation of an MOU with key mental health stakeholders
  8. Research with partners on the mental health system in Kenya
  9. Mental health policy and legislation

“Today, I can affirm that undertaking the GMH course at LSHTM/KCL has been a life-changing experience for me. Hopefully, I can come back to work on a PhD – just minus all the hoops I jumped through to finally start the MSc. I hope my story highlights the reality of studying abroad and can give hope to any woman or mother from a low-income country thinking they are being overambitious. You are not! We can be weak, resilient and strong. We are human, we are allowed to fall and get up and fall again. Failure doesn't define us. It took me almost four years to finally join a one-year course!”

International Women’s Day:

What does international women’s day mean to you?

It means a day to celebrate women who are often overlooked and expected to carry the burden of society with little or no recognition of their sacrifice and effort. It’s a day to remember that we are still fighting for equality.

Who is your biggest female inspiration?

My high school principal, Fatma Saman, believed in me and taught me to reach for the stars even when I could barely see the sky. 

Are there any influential women role models in your life?

My mother who sacrificed so much to educate and raise me and my nine siblings.

Name a woman that is making history today.

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first African woman and the first woman to be Director-General of the World Trade Organization. 

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