Addressing Health Challenges in the Sahel: Q&A with West African Leader Abdoulkader Issoufou


Adoulkader IssoufouIn early August, two Fellows from the OASIS Sahel Leadership Program—a collaborative program to train and support West African leaders—visited Berkeley and shared their experiences as emerging leaders in West Africa with members of the public health community at a dinner with Dean Stefano Bertozzi.

Abdoulkader Issoufou, a Fellow from the 2015 session, is an expert in food security from Niger. As a program assistant for the World Food Program, Mr. Issoufou mobilizes grassroots organizations for regional development.


What brought you to Berkeley this summer?

Thank you very much for this interview and the opportunity that you’ve given me to talk about the activities that I’m undertaking. I came to Berkeley on July 2 in order to attend the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program. It is a three-week course on sustainable environmental management. It brought together professionals from different parts of the world, and this year we had 42 fellows from 23 countries. Unfortunately, there were only two participants from the Sahel division—one from Mali and myself from Niger Republic.

Environmental Leadership Program participants

Issoufou with other Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program participants, exploring the Bay Area

What is the Sahel Leadership Program and why did you join? What has your experience with the program been like?

The Sahel Leadership Program is an initiative of the University of California, Berkeley with some partners from the Sahel division. It is a program that brings together professionals from many fields like agriculture, education, gender, health, and family planning. One of the goals of the Sahel Leadership Program is to create a critical mass of leaders in Sahel in sustainable agriculture, girls’ education, and family planning. I joined the Sahel Leadership Program in 2015 because I’m convinced that isolated intervention cannot properly address the challenges that Sahel is facing. I’m very concerned about the drought I have witnessed, which caused the 1980s famine. I can remember an important number of adults and children were on the streets of my hometown in Niger, begging for food. That made me become more involved in activities that try to overcome famine and drought. From the Sahel Leadership Program, I learned to create a road map, which helped me delineate my professional objectives. One of these objectives was to attend a training environmental program in an English-speaking country, and here I am! This is a great step forward for me.

Can you give us some insight into the World Food Program and the work you do there?

The World Food Program is a UN agency dedicated to eradicating hunger and poverty. In Niger we are working and concentrating our efforts on problems of food shortages, mainly caused by drought and rapid population growth. We are organizing communities to improve agricultural production through Food for Assets activities. We are also implementing school feeding through which we are encouraging girls to attend school and to complete their secondary education. We are deeply involved in malnutrition. Malnutrition is a big problem in Niger. In 2015 for example, 657,374 children ages 5- 59 months and 494,711 pregnant and lactating women were treated for moderate acute malnutrition. We’ve locked in emergency operations, which are mostly regional and respond to food and nutrition needs of households distressed by conflicts such as the Boko Haram insurgency. Also, the UN Humanitarian Air Service is managed by the World Food Program in Niger.

How is this work related to public health in your country? What are the main public health challenges there?

In Niger, the main health challenges are malnutrition, respiratory infections, and malaria. According to the Niger health statistics office, in 2014 malaria made up about 25 percent of consultations at health centers; respiratory related infections was about 27 percent. In 2015 according the results of the national survey of socio-economic and demographic indicators (Etude Nationale d’Evaluation d’Indicateurs Socio-Economiques et démographiques, ENISED), the prevalence rate of malnutrition was about 15% with more than 1 million women and children being treated for malnutrition. Fighting malnutrition is part of the activity that the WFP is undertaking by providing nutritional stuffs and technical assistance to health centers across the country. At the community level, the approach adopted by the WFP is building capacities of NGOs to develop an integrated package of activities and is raising community awareness on the Essential Family Practices. The elements of the Essential Family Practices are child nutrition, use of mosquito nets, measures related to family planning, etc.

Oasis Sahel Leadership Fellows dinner

Abdoulkader Issoufou (center) with Césaire Ouedraogo, another 2015 Sahel Leadership Program Fellow, and Katrina Costello at an August 2 dinner in Oakland.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the UC Berkeley School of Public Health community?

Yes, I can say that the School of Public Health must be more involved in addressing the challenges of Sahel. I don’t think the OASIS Initiative can succeed alone. The School of Public Health must be leading and mobilizing more faculty members and schools so we can have a critical mass of researchers interested in the issues of Sahel.

My colleague Alisha Graves and Malcom Potts of the OASIS Initiative have done a great job with coming up with projects and other ideas, such as the partnership between UC Berkeley and the Université Abdou Moumouni of Niamey (Niger). But, I think it is better to have a broad relationship between UC Berkeley and the government of Niger in order to make easier some specific partnership with all of the universities that are in Niger. In fact, we have eight universities. Finally, as WFP is a key agency in addressing nutrition and food security in Niger, it will be a great advantage if the School of Public Health, the Center for Effective Global Action, or other schools or centers of UC Berkeley develop joint projects with WFP Niger.

1 Comment

Leave A Comment