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“Navigating Global Health: My Internship at UNICEF Headquarters” 

By Gideon Kapalasa (UNC Public Health ’25)

Summer 2024 AFE Blog Post Series

The Rotary Peace Fellowship offers an unparalleled chance to turn theory into practice, one thing that captivated me. This essentially allows peace fellows to engage with different organizations, prepare them for various leadership roles across the globe in peacebuilding, and provide an opportunity to network. Personally, I knew this would also give me the opportunity to work with a major organization in global health. As the summer for the Applied Field Experience (AFE) approached, I was uncertain about which organization to choose, even though I had prepared a list of agencies to apply to.

Fast-forward to the end of the second semester: I received confirmation that I had secured an internship position with UNICEF at its headquarters office in New York in the Health section. This was great news and a fantastic opportunity to gain experience with one of the largest organizations impacting global health. I arrived in New York City the first week of June, greeted by the splendor of one of the world’s busiest and most hectic cities. I had to pay more attention to Google Maps so I could easily navigate through the city. I did not want to miss the opportunity of seeing the famous Times Square and one of the central parks in New York City. I was amazed at how such a city could have a beautiful park. Touring the UN Secretariat was another remarkable experience. I had the opportunity to see fascinating facilities and listen to different incredible narratives of the United Nations.

In my career working in the hospital, I developed a passion for working with children, which resonated well with UNICEF’s mission to help children survive and thrive worldwide. UNICEF operates in 190 countries and territories, supporting every child, everywhere, every day, to build a better world for everyone. The Primary Health Care (PHC) and Health Systems Strengthening (HSS) unit of the health section supports UNICEF’s role in helping governments build national health systems that are strong and resilient enough to provide sustainable quality services to those who need them, particularly children and mothers. These efforts are in response to global imperatives such as Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

My role involves documenting programmatic actions in specific areas of work at country and regional levels, contributing to the support of HSS and PHC staff toward UHC. My main duties include:

1. Developing HSS knowledge products

2. Supporting documentation through research and analysis on good practices and disseminating these practices through seminars, webinars, and relevant channels

3. Documenting experiences from UNICEF country offices concerning specific HSS areas, such as human resources and supply chain strengthening

4. Maintaining the HSS learning site on SharePoint

5. Attending internal UNICEF seminars and meetings, which provide opportunities to meet leading public health experts and reflect on issues, trends, and strategies shaping contemporary global health policies and practices

In the past few weeks, I have participated in meetings with health experts from UNICEF and other partner organizations, engaging in deep and excellent discourse around the future of global health. The pinnacle of these experiences has been the weekly meetings with health experts from both UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), the world’s biggest global health agencies, focusing on PHC. I have had the opportunity to listen to expert analysis of current issues in PHC and global health in general. These conversations have allowed me to align what we have been learning in my MPH-Global Health program with real-world applications.

I am extremely grateful to the Rotary Foundation for their generous financial support and to the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center for their continuous support and guidance throughout this process. Overall, my AFE this summer is an invaluable opportunity to acquire direct practical experience in UNICEF’s work and the United Nations system under the direct supervision of experienced UNICEF staff.

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