Career Interview: Boboh Kamangira the Data Analyst

What is your job title and where do you currently work?

Data Analyst at Catholic Organization for Relief and Development Aid (Cordaid), Zimbabwe Office.

Tell us about your industry? What does your firm/ organisation do?

Cordaid has experience with Results Based Financing (RBF) in the healthcare sector in several African countries. Working closely with the Ministry of Health and Child Care in Zimbabwe, in 2011 Cordaid started implementing a long-term program for national Result Based Financing (RBF) in healthcare.

The main objectives of the program are to prevent maternal and infant mortality and make good quality healthcare available to everyone. The healthcare provided to mothers and infants includes assisted childbirth, prenatal and postnatal care, growth monitoring, vaccinations, vitamin supplements and the prevention of HIV being passed from mother to child.

The essence of RBF is that carers are paid on the basis of their performance. In the context of RBF, responsibilities are defined, performance-related contracts are closed and independent organizations monitor the quality of healthcare that is provided. The patients, the recipients of the care and their families are consulted. Healthcare institutions are learning how to apply RBF, collate and manage data as well as analysis on the basis of the existing information system used throughout Zimbabwe. Later on, the government will carry out the program independently, hopefully starting 2018.

Tell us a little bit about your career history?

After graduating with my honours in 2010, I had a dry spell of one and a half years without stable employment. I spent most of this time as a temporary high school mathematics teacher. This led me to look for opportunities to further my education and I ended up embarking on my postgraduate degree in 2012 which I completed in 2014. As a student, I was employed as a part time research assistant by one of my professors and also tutored for 1.5 years. Upon submission of my thesis I worked as a part time Statistical/Data Management consultant for Jimat Development Consultancy. I then joined BRTI in January 2015. I left BRTI in March 2015 to join Clinton Health Access Initiative as a Volunteer, a position I held for 4 months before being “promoted” to Analyst, Laboratory Systems. I held the post of Analyst, Laboratory Systems for 2 years before joining Cordaid in June 2017 as a Data Analyst, a position I currently hold.

Was this always your dream career or it changed somewhere along the line?

If you had asked me the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” in 2000/2001 when I was doing form one or two, I would have told you that I want to be a medical doctor, a surgeon to be specific – a dream I am trying to sell to my two year old son now (laughs). I used to trap rats and mimic surgical operations on them using empty “maputi” plastic packs as gloves and razor blades as surgical blades. I worked hard, managed to get into the sciences class passing both biology and physical sciences with a B. When it came to choosing A-level subjects, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do MBC or commercials. One thing I was sure of is that I loved mathematics, so I ended up doing Mathematics, Accounting and Geography. Unexpectedly I failed Geography with an E but obtained a B in Mathematics and C in Accounting. I then applied for a degree in Operations Research and Statistics as my first choice and Applied Mathematics as my second. That’s how I ended up being a statistician. In short and answering the question, I am a sciences person who lacked career guidance or a role model to look up to and somehow my career goals ended up being messed up and changing along the way. The good thing is I did not fall very far away from my dream – I am a biostatistician now.

What qualifications do you hold? In short what educational path got you where you are? Could you have made the path shorter?

I am a holder of a Master of Philosophy degree in Demography from University of Cape Town (UCT) and a Bachelor of Science (hons) degree in Operations Research and Statistics from National University of Science and Technology (NUST). Had I known about the opportunities that existed while I was still studying for my Bachelor’s degree, I could have made the path shorter by a year. I wasted one and a half years doing temporary jobs which had no place in my career – now I have a gap year on my CV between completing Bachelor’s degree and starting Master’s degree.

What are the tasks that you do regularly in your profession?

Public Health Research is a major component of my career – being able to design research studies with rigorous but relevant methods for sampling and data analysis. Now and then I have to produce reports to show the impact of programs or certain changes within the program and this entails the application of advanced statistical methods such as quasi-experimental methods in impact evaluations. Another task that I am involved in is program monitoring – tracking key indicators and updating the results framework for the donors.

Can you tell us some of the projects you have worked on, which you found interesting?

All of the projects that I have worked on were interesting and would love to talk about them all. However, I will talk about my very first project which is one of the projects proudly on my CV despite its ups and downs on the learning curve. The project was on integrated specimen transportation in Zimbabwe. This was my first proof of concept project which also made use of quasi-experimental methods to evaluate the impact of integrating specimen transportation. About the project in short, the existing national sample transportation network is fragmented and costly resulting in sub-optimal rates of testing for diagnosis and monitoring. It relies on multiple disjointed transportation mechanisms and uncoordinated service providers. We piloted an integrated sample transportation system (ISTS) using a low cost local courier service - ZimPost. The objective of the pilot was to evaluate the acceptability, effectiveness, and cost of ISTS for HIV and TB laboratory services. ZimPost transported samples and results between 68 primary care facilities and 5 laboratories. Data on cost, turn-around time (TAT), and testing rates were abstracted from ZimPost records as well as laboratory and clinic registers for a baseline and post-pilot comparison. Semi-structured qualitative interviews with clinic and laboratory staff were conducted to assess acceptability. The pilot was completed on 30 April 2016. On average, sample collection increased by 70% with the highest increase in CD4 samples (121%). Early Infant HIV Diagnosis (EID) TAT decreased by 24 days and an 8 day TAT was achieved for CD4 and TB sputum testing. A 44% per sample cost reduction and 35% per facility cost reduction was observed between the baseline and post-pilot period. Cost-savings were driven by the decrease in the number of courier service providers and trips required as a result of combining sample types. Clinical and laboratory staff reported that the ISTS had strengthened the diagnosis and management of TB and HIV. The ISTS has been demonstrated to be an effective and affordable sample transportation system. The pilot also demonstrated the importance of a courier function that is dedicated solely to specimen transportation. However, the main limiting factor is that the courier roles may not be easily transferable to MOHCC given the current low staffing levels and high workloads which are exacerbated by the economic environment. It was recommended that MOHCC consider prioritizing specimen transportation in other health budgets e.g. results-based financing.

Available from: ISTS Case Study

What are some of the moments when you distinguished yourself in your career?

They are not just moments but a culture or work ethic I possess. My personal success has a lot to do with me always being willing to help others when they need help - without taking the official credit for the work. It always helps to be well liked and you never know who could be your boss tomorrow! In return most people are then willing to also help you. This is how I survived as an Analyst at Clinton Health Access Initiative. I knew I had a technical skill that most people at the organization didn’t have or were still developing, so I always offered to assist with data analysis. This is how I distinguished myself – at least in my opinion.

What is it that excites you the most when you are doing your job?

I love numbers and playing around with data – I am also a fan of computer programming. So, I get excited when the task at hand is one that involves some calculations or some kind of data analysis, especially if it’s something I can solve using programming such as R or VBA.

What bits do you find boring in your daily tasks?

As a Data Analyst I really enjoy my work to extent that I cannot say that there is anything that bores me with my tasks. The only stuff that usually gets on my nerve are administrative tasks that usually come my way when I am planning for a field visit or just after coming back – but I guess it’s part of the job.

What is the future trend of your career line? What roles do you see as disappearing in the future if any? Which ones do you see rising to dominate the landscape?

With the advent of “Big Data” in Healthcare, some of the approaches we use today will become less and less popular – especially cross sectional studies. There is going to be an inclination towards data science, things like data analytics, visualizations and data mining. This will be just making use of routinely collected data to make inferences – so causal inference is going to be relevant as usual but with a different approach – more focus on data mining and analytics, which requires strong computer programming skills over and above advanced statistical skills.

Any advice to those studying or aiming at this job or career?

My advice is that work hard and stay focused. This is a career with very few people but the jobs are also very few, so you need to remain competitive with very high grades in your studies. This is one area where you actually need a distinction in your studies and yet still be appreciated by the industry as having strong social skills. You also need to find yourself a role model and/or mentor whom you just learn from as they do their business and get advice from but remember that the dream is yours not theirs so don’t take everything they tell you, at times you will find yourself going against their advice and that will still be fine. When you get a chance, make connections – they are very important. Lastly, choose the schools you go to wisely – I mean colleges, especially for your postgraduate qualifications.