Nwanneka Okere successfully defends PhD

On 3 March 2022, Nwanneka Okere successfully defended her thesis “Differentiated Service Delivery in HIV Care and Treatment: An Exploration of Sustainability and Impact from Patients and Providers Perspective.” Nwanneka, who moved to the Netherlands from her home country, Nigeria at the beginning of her Ph.D. in 2017, was thrilled to be able to present her thesis live and in-person in front of family, friends, and colleagues at the Agnietenkapel in Amsterdam.

Nwanneka evaluated a model of service delivery promoted by WHO, the differentiated service delivery (DSD) for HIV care, and compared it to the clinic-based standard of care. Normally, patients who test positive for HIV must travel to clinics regularly for check-ups, lab tests, and to receive medications. DSD makes it possible to serve these patients within their communities instead of having to travel to medical clinics. Nwanneka was able to look at how this model of care impacts patients both medically and on a personal level. Nwanneka’s first objective was to examine the sustainability of this model. The goal for HIV care is that patients continue to receive their treatment so that it remains effective. Nwanneka examined how a DSD model, the adherence club, impacted patients’ quality of life and the quality of care they received. She also looked at what it costs patients to access services in the adherence clubs compared to clinic-based care.

Finding a community at AIGHD

Of course, no Ph.D. journey is ever the same for two people; and Nwanneka’s journey was quite different as she relocated to the Netherlands with her family from Nigeria and immediately began her research. Looking back on her experience, she realizes how important it is to be an observer, in the beginning, taking in your surroundings and setting intentions. During this period Nwanneka wishes she had taken the time to learn Dutch and take some holidays, as the further along she got in the research process, the less time she had to look around and enjoy assimilating into Dutch life.

Despite the hectic nature of a Ph.D., Nwanneka is extremely grateful for the community of people she found at AIGHD. The wide array of global health researchers within AIGHD helped Nwanneka develop a different set of skills and learn from multiple disciplines, which, she considers to be “invaluable.” She felt deep admiration for her supervisors Tobias Rinke de Wit, Denise Naniche, Gabriela Gomez, and Sabine Hermans, whom she felt truly cared for her throughout her research process. Not only was Nwanneka able to network with established researchers at AIGHD, together with Ph.D. student Boas van der Putten, she also started a Ph.D. community to bring together Ph.D. students and allow them to share experiences and struggles, and successes.

After defending her Ph.D., Nwanneka began working in the health systems strengthening team of the health unit at KIT, the Royal Tropical Institute. She responds to research and implementation calls and is involved in education, facilitating some sessions in the master’s program.

On behalf of AIGHD, we are so excited to see where Nwanneka’s research will take her, and we were so happy to be a part of her journey.