The ripple effect of education – Joseph Mseteka, Zambia

Story by the University of South Australia 

Inspired by his sister, a former nurse, and her profound impact when helping others, UniSA alum Joseph Mseteka has always believed that everyone deserves quality healthcare irrespective of their geographical location.

The youngest of five children, Joseph Mseteka, hadn’t always leaned towards a career in the health sphere. As a high school graduate, he toyed with the idea of a job in accounting, but his pathway to finance quickly vanished after he witnessed his eldest sister working as a respected nurse in Zambia and realised her importance to the community. “Everyone looked up to her, and she was so valued for her service, care, and time,” Joseph says. “She encouraged me to study nursing, and as soon as I started, I was hooked.”

After high school, Joseph embarked on his learning journey in healthcare, first with a Diploma in Nursing and Midwifery and then an Advanced Diploma in Midwifery in his homeland of Zambia. Joseph says it was during this time that his passion for healthcare bloomed. He soon developed an interest in reproductive health, maternal health and paediatric health, among other areas.

In Zambia, women face an alarming mortality rate of one in 100 during pregnancy or childbirth, while one in 37 infants is likely to die during their first month of life. Becoming acutely aware of the dire health outcomes in his native country, in 2002, Joseph decided to pursue a Bachelor of Nursing.

Later, working as a nurse and midwife for several years, he still had the urge to enhance his skillset, so in 2014, he completed an Advanced Diploma in Management and Leadership offered at the National Institute of Public Administration (NIPA) in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital.

Believing there was still more he could do to improve his nation’s health outcomes, Joseph broadened his outlook and sought the advice of his two senior supervisors. Both suggested further study in Australia.

Fascinated by the small continent and its impeccable health standards, Joseph was determined to strengthen his knowledge and make tertiary studies in Australia a reality.

Joseph (centre) and fellow scholarship recipients at UniSA.

Through hard work, diligence, and unwavering persistence, Joseph secured a prestigious Australia Awards scholarship funded by the Australian government. The scholarships are presented to emerging leaders from developing countries to assist them in contributing to their nations’ development, prosperity, and resilience.

Describing the moment he received the life-changing incentive as “nothing but a blessing”, in 2019 Joseph undertook a Master of Health Services Management at the University of South Australia (UniSA).

On completion, Joseph returned to Zambia and immediately put what he had learned into action. Recognising the need for more vaccine fridges, he used his new knowledge as a catalyst for change. “In Chipata City, there are 391 public healthcare facilities in 15 districts. Fourteen of these districts are in rural and remote areas, which are very hard to reach,” Joseph says. “Healthcare workers had to ride on motorbikes to the nearest health centre to collect vaccines. They, on average, had to travel 25 kilometres, which led to delays in implementing care to clients seeking immunisations and safety issues around high-quality cold chain management, which is important to ensure the efficacy of vaccines up to the time of immunisation.”

With COVID-19 vaccinations taking priority at that time, storage capacity for other immunisations was hampered. Joseph realised the time to act was now.

In May 2023, Joseph wrote a proposal to Amref Health Africa, the largest health development non-governmental international organisation, highlighting the need for more vaccine fridges in Zambia.

Zambian Mambwe District Commissioner William
Banda officially receives one of the six 110 litre vaccine fridges.

Six months later, through his improved negotiation and analytical capabilities, he procured six vaccine fridges for five of Zambia’s most remote communities, totalling more than ZMW 2 million, about AUD 138,000. The milestone was marked with a colourful ceremony in December 2023 at Kasamanda Rural Health Centre in Mambwe District, attended by more than 1200 people.

“It was such a wonderful turnout,” Joseph says. “We administered COVID vaccinations and other much-needed vaccinations to more than 30 children on the day.”  Reflecting on his achievement, Joseph reiterates, “If the community has gained, then that’s the most important thing. These vaccine fridges will ensure outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles and COVID-19 are minimised, which will thereby contribute to a greater quality of life for our community members.”

From January 2022 to February 2023, Zambia recorded more than 2200 cases of measles and 44 child deaths from the disease. The installation of the six vaccine fridges will help drive forward Zambia’s 2022-2026 national immunisation strategy, which seeks to strengthen routine immunisation and primary health care.

Reflecting on his own experience, Joseph emphasises the importance of cultivating a lifelong love of learning. “Graduates should be reminded that the education they gain isn’t just for themselves but for the broader society,” he says.

“It’s also vital they never tire of learning as every day is a new learning opportunity.”

Joseph says it is crucial for graduates to be open-minded. “They should be able to view things from a new perspective, even if that’s different from their own. Only by respecting one another can we reduce conflict and learn better.”

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