In An Ideal World: What Should Have Happened Was….?


Why is the abduction of these girls a Public Health Issue?

The reason that this is a Public Health issue is because it affects a population (country’s) mental, physical, emotional and even territorial health. It is also an issue of terrorism which is an area of concern for Public Health officials. Terrorism is when force is used to coerce a group of people, government, population into a mode of thinking or action. In this case, Boko Haram is pushing the populace into the arena of fear without any real clear aim. People are not sure what the course of action should be.


Public Health should be playing a pivotal role in this issue, in the area of surveillance, risk communication, intervention, planning and community wide response. It is unfortunate that because of the political structure (more historical than anything else) of Nigeria, there has been a lack of concerted effort to control this group. Controlling Boko Haram and bringing back those girls will take collaborations between Nigerian government, academicians, strategists, military and the international community.


Issues arising:


A couple of years when Boko Haram started their attacks, it was labeled as a religious and location issue, and as such anyone that got caught in the bloody fray was blamed for choosing to live in the Northern part of the country amongst Muslims. But Boko Haram is not about Islam but rather about fear mongering. Once Boko Haram made that first attack, there should have been a plan to ensure that was the last attack. An earlier post on this site, relays some preventative measures that should have been taken in the past and that should be taken now to forestall, the further growth of such an organization.


What is Nigeria’s response to terrorist attacks from within? Nigeria has a big brother role in conflict resolution around the continent but it is interesting that the Nigerian military seems to be dragging its feet in controlling these renegades.


These are steps that ideally should have been taken concurrently after the abductions:

1) The president should have performed risk communication immediately. The purpose of risk communication is to ensure that a) your authority is felt and that your people feel safe, heard and that you are in control. b) it controls misinformation c) It also provides guidance.


2) Get the Media involved. The Media is your ally. You want clean, clear and relevant information dispersed. Information that should have been relayed immediately were the names of the girls, their pictures and the media should have made the stories of these girls, via a blurb, more personal. The media and the dept. of information should have worked together to disperse this information using several media tools.


Set up a hotline that is easily remembered. E.G ‘Call Boko, if you have any information that could lead to the arrest of members or could lead to finding the girls’. Of course, if the information is good and works, those informants will need to be rewarded financially. The media should also be involved in putting together the hotline or dispersing the information about the hotline -jingle creation, information placement, information dispersion etc. The media and dept. of information should work closely during this time.


c)Gain the support of Northern leaders particularly states that these terrorists are working in. Ensure that it is clear, that this is now a federal government issue, they either step up , collaborate to clean up the reputation of their states or step away and let the federal government do what needs to be done.


d)Work with community leaders because they are your influencers. Let the message be spread in religious as well as community meetings that these individuals are working against religious tenets and the community since they were willing to kidnap individuals who are of the same faith.


e) Since Boko Haram has shown a penchant for the use of technology to spread fear. Technology use is an Achilles heel that can be used because most information on technological tools are traceable. By creating a map of where these terrorists are posting from, tracking their cell use,what they use, asking the right questions – it is possible to get a pattern that makes it easier to find them.


f) Create a technology strategy which might involve using traces, tracking systems, bugs and maps in areas in which terrorists are likely to use to disperse their information, particularly if they are using public computer systems for their work. They must have a reason for choosing particular business centers. Is it because it is isolated or closest to the center of the town? Figure it out.
Find out who has the user name that they are using to post their threats/demands on social networking sites – can that be traced? That is if they are not hacking into regular citizens accounts to place their threats. If they are using the telephone, the question becomes what numbers are they using? Are they using one cell phone or is it a disposable phone? How are they paying for these items? Is the credit card/phone /phone number traceable? There are always patterns, it is just having the right individuals who are trained to look for those patterns. If these individuals are not in Nigeria, maybe that’s where the collaboration with international sources might come in.


g)Follow up on information. There are many rumors flying all over the internet that the girls are in Sambisa forest. If that is true, then there is a need to get those who know the forest involved in working with the military in coming up with a plan of where these girls are likely to be kept. These individuals, probably grew up around the forest and know its nooks and crannies, caves and the caveats and these are the best guides. Also, it will not hurt, to get some helicopters involved in flying over and checking if they see anything that looks strange. Nigeria can afford it.

h) Get other West African countries involved, particularly the border countries. An easy way for these militants to sneak these girls to other countries to be trafficked as sex or labor workers is via the borders. Make it clear that any suspicious activity from Nigeria into their country via their borders should be checked and rechecked until those girls are found.

i)If the media, technology, community, checking the forest, checking the surrounding localities as well as across the border does not work – then there is going to be a need to have a discussion with other countries that might have stronger military and better surveillance and tracking techniques. Many Nigerians are opposed to getting help from better countries who are well versed in handling terrorism because they feel that this puts the country at a disadvantage. But, people do not disappear into the skies. They have to be somewhere. These are young girls and not adults, they are a cause for international concern and international action.









Using Social Marketing To Curtail Boko Haram.


General Overview


On April 14th 2014, more than 200 students from a school in Borno state, Nigeria were abducted by Boko Haram Islamist Militants. As of May 20th 2014, some of these girls are still with these militants, there has been a lot of social media fervor about the abductions with the #bringbackourgirls hashtag trending on social media sites, a lot of misinformation about the abduction and generally lack of clarity about the happenings. This post is to analyze this event and bring about a more preventative approach to forestall future happenings.


What is Social Marketing?


Social marketing, for the purpose of this post is about getting a population or a target audience to choose to implement a change in their behavior of their own volition. It borrows heavily from marketing. Interestingly, promotion (which is the blitz /shiny glitz that is seen) is just one aspect of marketing. Marketing involves understanding the needs of the community (end user needs), understanding why your idea /product is the best fit(positioning), choosing how to spread your message (channel selection) and of course, evaluating if what you posited or implemented actually worked (evaluation). Social marketing implements all four with the purpose of creating a behavioral change.


Social Marketing:


Intervention to curtail the growth of terrorist groups in the country by creating awareness, information promotion education and safety promotion. 


Behavioral changes expected:

  • Awareness of the dangers of Boko Haram to community health.
  • Collaboration with the government to arrest Boko Haram members.
  • Refusal to support, join, implement strategies of destruction of members of the community and citizens of the nation.
  • Reporting Boko Haram or suspected Boko Haram members.

These are behavioral changes because rather than cover up individuals who are bent on destruction, it pushes the community to uncover these individuals and curtail their growth. 


End Users:

Citizens of Northern states in Nigeria, Citizens of Nigeria and Border countries. These citizens want to feel safe. Boko Haram has shown a lack of respect for lives and this is their Achilles heel because it shows their agenda to be fear based rather than religious or against westernization based. Boko Haram is not about a philosophy.



An intervention to create awareness, educate and promote safety is the best strategy because it ensures that individuals are informed, and they know how to relay information about suspected terrorists.


Channel Selection:

The channels that will be used are social media, real media and influencers.

Social media will be used because a lot of younger members of society use social media tools; moreover, social media tools are used by Boko Haram members to spread fear. Additionally, social media is a very adaptive tool that can be used to spread any message using different formats. Social media tools are twitter, facebook, tumblr, google, youtube, instagram and the list goes on.


Real Time Media: This is not really as adaptable as social media. But, its reach is generally older members of society. Real time media includes community newspapers, gazettes etc


Influencers: This involves collaboration with religious leaders and community influencers to spread information and educate.


Message selection:


  • To choose the right message/image and be culturally sensitive, there has to be collaboration between community leaders and those who will be working on creation and placement of the message. Community members have to be involved in message selection.
  • The message and image should impart the importance of curtailing and controlling the growth of this terrorist group for the purpose of community mental/emotional and physical health.
  • The message should also include an educational component because when people are informed, they often choose to make the right decision. This information should clearly state that Boko Haram is not for any religious group or any religious person or even about westernization but rather is a group of people who enjoy spreading fear and everyone is a target.
  • Ensure that the message contains an easily remembered number for those that might have information about Boko Haram and (or) suspected Boko Haram members.





Create an access map to find out where young and older people gather and place informational products in those places and this could also be  virtual places as well. Informational products could be educational brochures created from information received from community leaders and community influencers.Informational products could also come in other forms. Virtual space could be websites or online meeting places that attracts younger citizens.


Beyond using technology, other media tools should be used like: radio, tv , community newspaper. Informational products should be placed in community centers like market places, hospitals, clinics, religious organizations etc.




There are different ways to evaluate and they include:

  • charting how often messages are received before an attack occurs.
  • surveying to see how much information is known about Boko Haram and their message from the lay individual in the community.
  • Running focus groups
  • Comparing to see if there has been a reduction in attacks and abductions in the Northern area since the implementation of this intervention.


Special Note On #Bringbackourgirls campaign.

The #Bringbackourgirls campaign has been quite effective in creating awareness about the abduction of these young girls internationally. A lot of global celebrities have been seen with their placards and the words #bringbackourgirls. #Bringbackourgirls has created awareness and ensured that this atrocity remains in the fickle minds of the global populace. But Nigeria’s governmental media strategists/information center have to ensure that Nigerian citizens have information that is relevant, clear and on time. It is important that the federal government of Nigeria be seen to be physically doing something to get these girls home. This is not the time to shift responsibilities to the state government but rather a time to collaborate if need be. Some have argued that Boko Haram’s reason for operation is to destabilize the Nigerian government but if the Nigerian government does not take some strong actions. Boko Haram might win.






My First Cinco De Mayo Event

“Literally “the Fifth of May,” Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican Holiday celebrating the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5, 1862. In 1861, France sent a massive army to invade Mexico, as they wanted to collect on some war debts. The French army was much larger, better trained and equipped than the Mexicans struggling to defend the road to Mexico City. It rolled through Mexico until it reached Puebla, where the Mexicans made a valiant stand, and, against all logic, won a huge victory. It was short-lived, as the French army regrouped and continued; eventually taking Mexico City, but the euphoria of an unlikely victory against overwhelming odds is remembered every May fifth”.  (

When I lived in New York, I attended many cultural parades and events but I never attended a Cinco de Mayo event.  I was definitely excited to be at this event, particularly since Texas, used to be Mexico’s territory.  I was looking forward to a very authentic/real experience. An experience akin to the one that one will experience in Mexico. It was a very different event and there were things that I saw occur at the parade that I’ve never seen before, in any parade.  For example, people participating in the parade threw items like candies, cookies, mexican spices, Doritos at individuals in the crowd.  I understood this as a cultural happening and went with the flow.  Yes, I admit, I picked up that candy and took the mexican spice.  Like seriously, who can refuse spices?  No, not me!

 Another thing, I loved about the Cinco De Mayo parade was that it showcased the melange that is Mexican culture.   From the way that participants were dressed you could see the influence of Spanish, Native American and American culture.

This event occurred in downtown Houston, a couple of weeks ago.  I wasn’t dressed in a traditional outfit.  LOOOOOL!!!  It was an interesting event.  Here are some pictures… enjoy….:)

 *I am not quite ready to write on the Nigeria happenings yet.

Mental Health – Public Health Perspective

General Overview:

Mental illness affects one in every four people. Surprised? Mental illness cuts across socioeconomic status, professions , countries and cultures. Of course, in certain countries, cultures, and socioeconomic levels, mental illness is accepted and resources are allocated for individuals who fall into the category of the mentally ill.

Unfortunately, the public perception of the mentally ill is often one tied to the unkempt individual that is out of touch with reality or society. Many are often so caught up in their idea of what the mentally ill looks like, that they refuse to acknowledge that mentally ill individuals might have ‘normal’ faces and be quite hidden within society. Because, mental health issues are not as in your face as physical disabilities, it has been a struggle getting attention on the issues of mental health  in terms of funding.

How is  mental illness defined?

There are several definitions out there for mental illness but the definition preferred on this blog is that mental illness is a chemical imbalance that causes an individual to produce behavioral changes (feels, acts, behaves, thinks) that might be considered as being outside the scope of normality for an extended duration of time.

Now, one will assume that with mental illness being a common occurrence in every society that there will be more acceptance ; unfortunately, because many societies are not fully equipped or ready to handle this issue, many of the mentally ill either fall through the cracks, hide in shadows (particularly if they can pass off as being ‘normal’ ) or are abandoned.

It is particularly saddening that in many developed countries those that seem to fall through the cracks tend to be those from lower socioeconomic levels. Often, because they cannot afford to pay for help, or therapy is not supported in their communities.

Who are the Mentally ill?

The mentally ill ranges from the professional who seems to have it all together to the homeless individual that you see having an interesting conversation with an invincible person. There is a broad spectrum for what could be termed mental illness and this ranges from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, OCD etc.

A Special Note on Substance Abuse:

In many cases substance abuse is grouped with mental illness because substance abuse can be the doorway into mental illness or could be the way that individuals cope with their mental illness. Substance abuse could be a coping strategy. For example, that person that is addicted to prescription pills might be dealing with depression. Another example, could be that person that abuses alcohol could be using alcohol to lessen the sound of voices talking to him/her.

What are the issues for many with mental illness?

a) Lack of awareness: Many do not know about mental illness or they are stuck on their perception of mental illness.

b)Lack of acceptance: Many have learned how to hide their struggles to fit in.

c)Lack of inclusion: Many are scared that they will lose their loved ones if they admit to struggling with mental illness and many have lost their loved ones because of mental illness.

d)Lack of facilities and trained mental health professionals: There is a dearth of professionals trained to work within this field and in some parts of the world, facilities are lacking to handle this population.  In addition, there are countries that prefer not to take care of this population for cultural reasons.

e)Isolation: The mentally ill is often isolated from the rest of society. Often, there are no programs in place to include them into society during and after treatment.

f)Lack of understanding: There are societies in which religion is often the way used on the mentally ill but it is imperative that there is a balance between religion and other initiatives. After the religious process, the individual will still need to see a therapist, will still need to be trained on how to behave in society/work in society, will still need to be supported through the inclusion process. It is very important that all those who played a supportive role in the healing process get some therapy. In developing countries, caregiver burden is seen as normative, but no one asks about support for the caregiver.   There is a need for supportive networks in developing countries for the mentally ill and their loved ones.

g) Lack of training: Those who educate and those who hire need to be trained in ways of creating special accommodations for these individuals. They also need to be trained on how to communicate with these individuals. In the United States, a lot of work is being done in this area by training those who work in the field of education.

What should the lay person do?

a) Provide support:  Many of those who struggle with mental illness beyond needing a therapist or professional that can provide psychological or psychiatric support,  also need a friend that will see them through the dark times.

b) Many need to be included. The idea of excluding individuals who struggle with mental illness in certain countries/cultures need to be abolished. Those who struggle with mental illness are still members of society and as such special accommodations should be created to include these individuals. Many of these individuals with mental illness are skilled workers or people who have the potential to be trained in special skills, so it becomes worrisome when one wonders, how many highly skilled individuals in high employment need based areas  have been abandoned  because of this special circumstance. Further more, it is interesting to note that many in our prison systems around the world, are individuals who struggle with mental illness. It makes one wonder, if the reason they got themselves into certain ‘situations/scenarios’ was because of this condition.

Fortunately, United States Of America provides for inmates who struggle with mental illness. It has been noted, that there are cases of family members /loved ones calling for the apprehension of their  mentally ill  because they cannot provide the kind of care needed and the prison system is set up to provide the best care.  But, this is in the United States, and is probably not the case in developing countries.

c)Support government and community led initiatives that will create programs that help these individuals. If you can vote – then vote the right individuals who show concern about the invincible in society and have a workable plan in place to help/support these individuals.  If you can not vote, get involved in outreach programs. Get involved in promoting mental health. Educate individuals on mental health and its impact on community health.

d)Encourage these individuals to get diagnosed. Get them to understand that getting diagnosed is the first step towards healing. Do not self-diagnose.

Why is this a Public Health Issue?

a) This is  a global health issue that affects individual, organizational and population health around the world.  Every country is affected.

b) It includes socioeconomic disparities and affects the powerless and the voiceless.

c)It has far-reaching impact.

d)It involves health care reforms.

e) It involves collaborating with different communities , religious institutions and health systems to take care of a particular population.

For those in the United States, please check out


FYI:  May is Mental Health Month in the United States.




On Human Trafficking And Smuggling.


General Overview

Hollywood has done a great job of making the terms human trafficking, human smuggling and prostitution, household words. Human trafficking is the second largest criminal activity in the world. It is a form of modern-day slavery and a way in which humans are moved from one place to the other for either sexual reasons or labor reasons. It is estimated that 21 million people are currently enslaved around the world. Between 14,500 to 17,5400 victims are trafficked into the U.S annually. This excludes trafficking that occurs between states.


Who are the victims?

The victims are men, women or children. They are often from marginalized communities, lower-income communities. Many cannot communicate in the English language. They are often isolated. These victims come from all over the world into the U.S.A but the prevalent countries are Asia, Central and South America and Eastern Europe.


What types of trafficking exist?

There are two main types of trafficking; they are sexual trafficking and labor trafficking. Sexual trafficking is when individuals are obtained for the use of commercial sex. They have no choice. This is very different from prostitution because a prostitute has a choice. Sex tourism falls under this. Sex tourism occurs, when individuals travel out of their country to other localities to have access to ‘exotic’ /’different’ , ‘illicit’ kind of sex.  Unfortunately,  American males are at the top of the chart in traveling to other countries for illicit sexual activities.

Labor trafficking is when individuals are obtained for labor use. These are the individuals you see selling tapes on the train, nannies, house helps, those who work in sweat shops.

What types of tools are used?

The tools used in recruiting, obtaining and retaining the victim (s) are blackmail, threat (with deportation), force, fraud, threats with death or injury, taking away victims travel documents, isolating them to hinder escape.


How do you prove that you are a victim of trafficking?

To prove that you are a victim of trafficking, you have to show that either force and or fraud and or coercion was used.

Force is the use of rape, beating, confinement to break the victim down and make them easier to control. In the African setting, it could be refusing to allow the trafficked child mix with other children, ensuring that all the child has around are people who are aware that he/she has been trafficked. Using shame or fear or cultural tools to tie the child into doing what you want.

Fraud: Using false offers to get people into trafficking. For example, using an ad to attract women into jobs as musicians in other countries and when they get there, they find themselves forced to work as sex workers. In the African setting, going to a village and taking a child from there, and telling the mother that you are going to put the child through school but rather, taking that child to your home to work as your help or to help you run your store.


Coercion: This involves threats of serious harm to the victim or the victim’s loved ones to get them to do what you want them to do. In many cases, this threat could be the abuse of the legal process. For example, threatening to call USCIS to get him/her deported, if he/she does not do what you want them to do.

P.S: A minor does not need to prove all these to show that he/she has been trafficked. Only one will do.


What is the difference between Trafficking and Smuggling?

Though these are quite similar, the main difference is the issue of choice. In trafficking, the victim did not consent to their situations or if they originally did, the behavior of the traffickers made the consent meaningless. Trafficking is exploitative. It seeks to continue making profits out of the trafficked.

In smuggling, victims consent to this. It is transportation based; it is about moving the individual from one part of the world, country or state to another illegally. It is basically about breaching the country’s or nation’s border. Often, when the victim has been smuggled, and pays the price, the smuggled continue on with their lives.

 A special note on debt bondage:

Debt bondage is a tool used by traffickers. This is when victims are trapped to continue paying off their debt because of living expenses. As such, victims remain caught in a trap of sex or labor trafficking without ever seeing the money that they should have received for services rendered. They remain slaves for life.

In Houston, Texas, a three-pronged approach is used to combat this issue and they are namely:

a) Outreach, training and prevention.

b)Investigation, rescue and prosecution. c) Victim services and protection.

Why is this a Public Health Issues:

a) It involves issues of exploitation.

b) It involves issues of Marginalization.

c) It involves the socio- economic.

d) It involves mental, sexual and physical health issues of a population (in this case , the population are victims).

e) It involves creating  and enforcing policies to control, protect and execute.

f) It involves a lack of voice/ lack of power.


What can you do as a regular member of society?

When you see something that does not seem right, ask questions wisely. When you come across an advert in a newspaper that raises the red flag – reach out to the newspaper or the trafficking hotline and have that investigated. There are many who wish they could go home but they are too scared and they cannot communicate in English. Many are isolated and depressed.



If you suspect an individual has been trafficked, if you have questions about an ad or you just want more information – call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1888 3737 888.


Information and Data From:

a)International Labor Organization. “ILO Global Estimate of forced Labour,:  June 2012.

b)US Department of State.  “Trafficking in Persons Report,” June 2013.

c)International Labor Organization. “ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour,” June. 2012.