Joseph Akambase is an Epidemiology MPH student at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. After growing up and working as a clinician in Ghana, Joseph moved to the United States with his wife to further his public health education. Learn more about Joseph and his experiences by reading his responses to the questions below.
What drew you to public health? [Joseph] As a practicing clinician in Ghana, I recognized that there were limitations to how much I could adequately serve the population within the four walls of our clinic. This was extremely evident when I worked in a small town of about 1,000 people called Funsi in Northern Ghana and realized that I spent a significant amount of time advocating for my patients, however I often wondered about the patients I wouldn’t have a chance to meet. This sparked my interest in medical research, outreach, and public health. There are limitations on the number of patients we can see in a clinic in a day, but the impact of our work in public health is far reaching.
Why are you studying epidemiology? [Joseph] Sadly, in Ghana and much of Africa, a significant proportion of people still die from preventable infections such as malaria, viral hepatitis and other infections. I wanted an opportunity to learn and develop the necessary skills in order to be able to study and understand these diseases better in terms of its distribution and avenues to strengthen existing infections prevention efforts. I felt that Epidemiology was exactly what I needed as it compliments my skills as a clinician and strengthens my foundational training as a researcher. My hope is that training in Epidemiology would equip me well with skills to be able to describe and independently design and conduct studies to investigate diseases. I also hope to learn skills required to design interventions independently or through collaborations to solve various public health problems facing my community.
What specific public health issue do you care the most about and why? [Joseph] My primary interest is in studying diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and the liver such as viral hepatitis B. Viral hepatitis B, though a vaccine-preventable infection, remains a major global health problem. The World Health Organization in 2015, estimated that there were about 257 million hepatitis B virus carriers in the world and about 887,000 had died that year from the hepatitis B virus-related liver disease. Unfortunately, a greater burden of chronic hepatitis B infection, which is the leading cause of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) occurs in Sub-saharan Africa. As far as my broad interest in diseases of the gastrointestinal tract is concerned, I have been involved in research studies at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester specifically, in the area of Eosinophilic Esophagitis, which is a chronic immune disease of the esophagus. In this particular research the focus was on finding patient factors which would predict non-response to proton-pump inhibitors (PPI) as a first line treatment.
How do you plan to further address this research? [Joseph] In the interim, I’ll be working in the summer with Dr. Jose Debes, an Associate Professor of Medicine at the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Medicine of the UMN Medical School on a large epidemiological study. This study is focussed primarily on describing the epidemiology of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in South America. I look forward to working a lot more on projects on viral hepatitis in the immediate future.
What do you like about being in Minnesota? [Joseph] My wife and I love it here to be perfectly honest. As someone who had lived all of my life in the hot sun of Ghana, I had a fair share of my winter baptism when I first arrived here in 2019 but I have grown to like it here. Minnesotans are really friendly and genuinely kind. My wife and I would love to raise our children here. I believe that this is a very great place to live and I have met very kind people here in Minnesota and would not trade that for anything.