Community Comes First
Robertson Kwasi Somuah, MPH saw a need in community healthcare and decided to help take on the issue as a personal and professional mission.
Somuah started his public health career in 2009 working at an emergency room (ER) in Vermont after completing his bachelor’s at State University New York (SUNY). “I learned more there than I could in any education setting. You see so much trauma, and I was engaged with a lot of people,” he said. “It was a one stop shop where everything could go wrong.”
But working with patients in the ER gave him a way to engage with people on a personal level, even amongst the trauma. In this level one trauma unit, he saw the gamut of medical issues.
But one thing that stood out were “the regulars” that would come to the clinic. Underserved people would come to the ER for many issues that should be treated by a primary care physician.
“I could see a discrepancy in the healthcare of many of these people. They really needed basic necessities before they could come in for treatment.”
That’s what made him decide on a future career in global and community healthcare. “When I approach a challenge,” Somuah says, “I look at the micro and macro issues. The micro issue is community healthcare, and the macro issue is global healthcare.”
This understanding led Somuah to find Touro University California (TUC) and pursue his Master’s of Public Health (MPH) degree.
“I was really looking for a dual degree (Physician Assistant/MPH) program,” Somuah stated. And TUC offers this rare opportunity (dual degree).
After graduating and taking an extra semester of global health and community health at TUC, Somuah was focused on addressing the issues of public health within smaller communities. He started at Solano County Public Health emergency services, and quickly moved into this role with Health Education, and the Communicable diseases program.
“I have always been drawn to communicable disease education and prevention. As a high school student in Ghana, we learned a lot about communicable diseases and transmission,” Somuah states.
He again noticed a discrepancy in healthcare in the Solano County communities; especially among the African-American, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+ communities. Somuah talks about how these communities are often disproportionately infected with sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and other communicable diseases. And so his work focuses heavily on sexual health education, prevention, and treatment within these communities.
Often the populations he works with have a harder time accessing healthcare; whether it’s from lack of transportation, low income, no internet access, or stigmas surrounding healthcare and communicable disease education.
But many of his initiatives focus on removing those barriers.
For instance, Somuah’s initiatives include condom dispensaries at the local community college; virtual sexual and health education for the county’s schools; a PrEP (HIV prevention drug) clinic partnership with a local pharmacy; and Covid-19 vaccine presentations among the African American community to debunk any myths about the vaccine.
One of his recent and most popular initiatives, which grabbed the attention of Vice, involves partnering with and training a local Tik Tok influencer to use social media for educating younger people on sexual health issues.
“By using a peer education, we can meet people where they are,” Somuah says. “Young people are on TikTok, so they can relate.”
Through these TikTok videos, the poster’s followers have gone up substantially to 217,000. People can then reach out through the number posted on TikTok, and Somuah states that local people have found his clinic through it.
Modern times call for modern solutions, and Somuah is using this platform to continue the work that he set out to do.
I want to stay grounded in the community,” Somuah says. “[Working with them] gives you humility, and these are human beings-- and not just a number.”
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