Alumni Profile: Ike Anya

Ike Anya

Current job title and organisation

Locum Consultant in Public Health Medicine, Public Health Scotland      

Can you please tell us a bit about your current work/research?

After several years working at senior levels in public health in London, I stepped back to concentrate on my writing and support the two public health organisations I has cofounded in Nigeria- Nigeria Health Watch and EpiAfric.

 After completing my memoir manuscript in October 2020, I started working as a locum consultant mostly in Scotland. I worked in the Health Protection Teams for a number of Scottish health boards leading responses to covid outbreaks in a number of thematic areas.

Since May last year I’ve worked at Public Health Scotland on a variety of teams, filling in for colleagues on leave and since late last year have been jointly leading on the implementation of a complex national programme which hopefully goes live soon. I continue to teach sessions on ethics, global health and public health to undergraduates and postgraduates at a number of institutions including LSHTM.

 I’ve also just finished a one year term as an associate non executive director at North Bristol NHS Trust and I continue to write and speak at events. I’m currently researching the lives of my four grandparents and learning so much about the precolonial world that existed in my community

What were some of your favourite professional achievements?

Several including chairing group that wrote the first pandemic flu plan for Bristol, chairing the group that developed guidance on blood-borne viruses for prisons in the south west which were adopted nationally, leading the North West London public health London 2012 work stream, acting as director of public health for the Triborough.

I would also say becoming the only trainee appointed by the Secretary of State for Health to the Postgraduate Medical Education & Training Board in 2006, founding Nigeria Health Watch and EpiAfric and leading the design and implementation of the first full scale simulation of an infectious disease outbreak exercise in west Africa. Through all these, I’ve cherished the opportunities to learn and to pass on my learning.  

Can you tell us about your upcoming memoir? 

Ike Anya - Small by Small book cover

It’s a miracle. I’d always dreamt of writing a book right from primary school where I used to write poems and short stories that my class sometimes recited or performed – very heady for a nine-year-old.  But with the pressure of medical school and career I thought it would never happen. In 2012 I had an essay People Don’t Get Depressed in Nigeria published in the acclaimed literary journal Granta, an opportunity that fell right into my lap as I never formally submitted it for consideration.

It came to the attention of the editor and deputy editor who loved it and when it was published, there was a lot of interest from agents and publishers asking if I was working on a book. Thankfully a beloved writer friend had warned me beforehand to say yes if asked that question. So I did and soon secured a request for a proposal and an agent.

That propelled me to take 6 weeks of unpaid leave to go and try to write a first draft of my memories of medical school and becoming a doctor in turbulent 1990s Nigeria. It’s taken ten years but Small by Small Becoming A Doctor in 1990s Nigeria will be published on May 18th by Sandstone Press and it’s currently available to pre-order now. I keep pinching myself marvelling at how blessed I am to have this opportunity at my age and late stage of what has already been a pretty fulfilled life and career beyond anything I’d imagined as a little boy growing up in Nsukka.         

What course and year did you study at LSHTM?

I probably hold a record? I first came to LSHTM to do the MSc in Tropical Medicine and International Health, and also took the opportunity to do the Diploma in Tropical Medicine & Hygiene. Thereafter I started specialty training in public health medicine in the southwest of England in 2003 and at the time the region sent all its first-year public health registrars to LSHTM to do the Public Health Masters in preparation for the dreaded exams of the Faculty of Public Health. I completed that second MSc in Public Health in 2004.

Why did you choose to study with LSHTM?

I’d heard it was the top Public Health school in the world and I was struck by how often when there was an outbreak and an expert (usually non-African) was approached by the media for comment, it was often someone associated with LSHTM. Having decided I wanted a career in public health, it seemed logical to study there. Plus my parents were both graduates of UK universities (as were many of my consultants and professors) and I think this subconsciously led me to aspire to study in the UK.     

Did you have to overcome any challenges to study with us?     

I most certainly did. Funding was a big challenge, as was getting a visa. I had a small scholarship but long before I was due to start, a key source of planned funding fell through. Despite me putting in all I had and my family and friends supporting, I arrived in London with a thousand pounds in my pocket, a promise of a place on the floor of a friend’s studio, and a receipt for the first term’s tuition fees.

I had considered cancelling my plans as I had no idea beyond my parents’ unwavering faith and confidence that things would be ok,  of how I would pay the second and third term fees or live for the rest of the year. I’d hoped to get a job to help for the 20 hours a week but ran into a Kafkaesque situation where all employers asked for an NI number before they could offer you a job and the NI office insisted on a job offer before they could issue an NI number.

I remember my panic that first month as my cash dwindled. ULU across the road was a saviour, offering a job as a steward/security which allowed an NI number. So, I’d finish lectures at about 4 pm and head to work till midnight fairly often. My parents at great sacrifice managed to cover the outstanding fees through unexpected international consultancy work that emerged for my father at key points. I’ll never forget how one term my father wired the entire payment he’d received allowing me to pay my fees.

The Canadian Presbyterian church made a crucial contribution to living expenses before I got a job. It took a village to get me through to my degree awarded with distinction and I remain eternally grateful to everyone who helped and have tried to pass it on.      

What were your favourite memories from your studies with us?

The camaraderie of classmates from all over the world, especially the social activities including the DTMH wider group. Being taught by global experts who were very informal and accessible. The African student community and the party we planned. The group work exercises which were firmly rooted in real life.            

How has your LSHTM degree helped you in your career?

Immeasurably. I was often told at my early interviews for jobs in the UK that my Distinction in my  LSHTM masters was what got me onto the shortlists given my lack of UK experience even though my equivalent experience theoretically should have sufficed. Beyond the cachet and credibility, the real skills I learned, especially in critical thinking and social science are things I still make use of. And of course, there’s the confidence that comes from having those credentials and experiences.

What would you like to achieve in future?       

I’d like to help support those coming after me, especially those from groups often marginalised in decision-making and leadership roles. I think I can do this effectively by sharing what I’ve learned from my experiences as widely as possible- through writing, teaching, public speaking, advocacy & non-executive advisory roles. 

Do you have any advice for students/recent graduates?           

Grab all the amazing opportunities available at LSHTM - the networks, the resources, the access, the skills. And keep doing that all through your life. Pay attention to your grades, they can make a real difference but also enjoy with an open mind all the different, rich perspectives present within the school. Use the privilege of an LSHTM education to genuinely live out the ethos of making a real difference and building a better, fairer healthier world.