A Discussion with Lydia Dagnachew by Aisha Saleem:

Today I am posting the second story for “A Student’s Voice”. The stories of students I share are either currently students or newly graduated. Our goal with this blog is to share stories of their experiences and ask them about why planetary and global health is important to them. Through sharing their stories, students will also tell us about what drew them into this field. The blog today is with Lydia who tells us about her journey as student and her experiences in her Global Health practicum. This blog will continue in the upcoming months, highlighting passionate individuals in Global Health, on the fourth Thursday of every month.

Let me introduce Lydia Dagnachew:

Hello, my name is Lydia Dagnachew! As a young woman with an Ethiopian background, I was interested in the field of Global Health and the need to provide health equity to marginalized populations. My trips to Ethiopia as a young girl were eye-opening, as I began to understand the unjust health gap between the global north and the global south. As I grew older, I became passionate about Women’s Health, specifically Black Maternal Health and the racial injustices that also exist within our first-world health systems. I have always been unsatisfied with accepting the social inequalities that influence health disparities as “the way things are”. As a result, I pursued an undergraduate Global Health degree at York University with a specialization in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. As a final year student, I believe that I have the capacity to challenge the health inequities that transcend borders. As I am set to graduate in June, I am looking forward to future opportunities that will further develop my ability to critically evaluate health promotion interventions and improve the social determinants of health. You can read more about my professional experiences at www.linkedin.com/in/lydiadagnachew

What projects are you currently working on? 

I am currently in the midst of finishing up my undergraduate practicum placement virtually with Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR). My role with CPAR involves working on the Enhancing Sexual and Reproductive Health for Women and Adolescents project (ESWA). The project, which is set to take place over the next four years, focuses on delivering quality sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services to women and adolescents in the Amhara and Oromia regions of Ethiopia. While the ESWA project aims to address the wide scope of SRH, my role with CPAR is primarily focused on two main areas: Early Child Marriage & Ethiopia’s Obstetric Fistula burden.

Early Child Marriage is a harmful traditional practice of global-significance that subjects young girls to school-dropouts, the loss of autonomy, gender-based violence, and poor SRH outcomes. The SRH consequences of early child marriage ranges from HIV infections, unintended pregnancy, sexual violence, and serious pregnancy-related complications such as obstetric fistula. In Ethiopia, approximately 26,000 women are living with obstetric fistula with an additional 9,000 new cases annually (Andargie & Debu, 2017). To address this widespread issue, I conducted extensive research on successful strategies that reduce early child marriage rates. Based on my research, I developed a comprehensive communication checklist to propose a culturally appropriate education incentivization program. The main objective of the program is to incentivize keeping young girls in school while helping young girls attain SRH rights. Although the sustainability of education incentivization programs have been criticized in the past, I proposed a program that would involve community-based women empowerment interventions. The program aims to determine a feasible education incentive while involving religious stakeholders and respected youth and elders to increase the community’s awareness of SRH and the importance of continuing education. Without the realization of SRH rights, gender equality and the empowerment of young girls is unachievable. It is crucial for communities with high early child marriage rates to understand that continuing young girls’ education can be of benefit, not only to the girls themselves, but also to the community. Fortunately, I have received great support from CPAR’s Ethiopia team, and we are currently awaiting approval from the grassroot stakeholders to proceed with the intervention.

In addition, I have also been working to address the psychosocial implications of Ethiopia’s Obstetric Fistula burden. Ethiopia lies within the “obstetric fistula belt” where women suffer from a largely preventable birth complication that causes urinary and rectal incontinence due to obstructed or prolonged labour. Unfortunately, the pervasive stigma associated with obstetric fistulas can lead to social isolation and serious psychological implications. To support CPAR’s efforts, I developed a scholarly research report that highlights the benefits of counselling for women with obstetric fistulas. The report revealed that a successful fistula repair surgery cannot solely improve the mental health of women with obstetric fistulas. Ultimately, I am hopeful that the scholarly research report I am developing will help CPAR secure support to fund a well-strategized counselling program for women with obstetric fistulas in the ESWA project areas. 

How do you see your role in maintaining and facilitating Planetary Health?

Throughout my undergraduate degree, I worked part-time while also volunteering at the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) headquarters in Toronto. Although much of my responsibilities were focused on supporting the team through administrative coordination, I gained a lot of insight into the challenges of delivering humanitarian aid. One of which includes the impact of climate change on humanitarian medical activities. As human-caused disruptions to the environment have exacerbated the need for humanitarian help, I am committed to maintaining Planetary Health by spreading awareness within my community about the links between environmental degradation and our health. I have also been actively reading the Planetary Health Weekly and signing up for webinars to ensure that my understanding of Global Health includes our planet’s health and its connections with our health. This new Covid-19 era has afforded us with the opportunity to attend webinars and conferences that may not have been accessible before the pandemic, and I urge everyone to take the time to reap the benefits.

What program are you in? 

I have had the privilege of pursuing Canada’s first undergraduate BSc Global Health degree at York University. My degree in Global Health has given me an interdisciplinary background in Canadian and international health care systems. With a specialization in health promotion and disease prevention, I have acquired the necessary introductory tools to develop, implement and evaluate health promotion interventions that reduce the burden of disease. I have also gained a strong theoretical and methodological understanding of global health governance, epidemiology, community development, human rights and research methods. Throughout my courses, I have completed many program evaluations and institutional analyses focused on addressing systemic issues in transnational health care interventions. Overall, I can confidently say that my undergraduate degree has taught me a lot about myself, my work ethic, and my determination to be an Agent of Change for those less privileged. I believe the competencies I have gained throughout my undergraduate degree have prepared me to be successful in the growing field of Global Health.  

What roles have people around you (parents, siblings, teachers, friends, mentors, managers, etc.) played in motivating you and facilitating your career journey?

Growing up, my parents have always been my biggest motivators in pursuing a career in the health field. Being the first of my family to attain a post-secondary education has not always been easy; however, my parents and my younger sister have been the best support system I could have ever asked for. My younger sister is also a huge motivator as she helps me strive to be the best role model I can be. Lastly, my community has played an important role in motivating my career journey. Having lived in Brampton almost all my life, I have witnessed the detrimental effects of having an underfunded health care system. In December, Brampton was widely denounced for being a Covid-19 hotspot; however, crowded working and living conditions coupled with poor health care resources have largely contributed to the city’s alarming Covid-19 rates. With only one hospital, one of the province’s most multicultural areas is severely under-resourced. As a result, I believe that pursuing a career in Global Health will provide me with the tools to improve my city’s overburdened healthcare system and create substantive change for global health burdens.

How do you spend your free time? 

At the start of the pandemic, I began to develop a love for gardening and plants. I started with buying one plant, which quickly became two, then three and now I have over 25 house plants. So, I spend most of my free time tending to my plant collection. I have found that my plants have taught me a lot about patience and the consequences of over-giving.  If you are interested in plants, you can follow my plant journey at: www.instagram.com/gardenoflyd 


Andargie, A. A., & Debu, A. (2017). Determinants of obstetric fistula in Ethiopia. African health sciences17(3), 671-680.

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