When Mariam Cissé was a girl, she wanted to be an engineer. Her parents hoped for her to be an accountant and, eventually, a banker. But just as she received her bachelor’s degree, her younger brother fell sick. Mariam’s family resided in Kati, a town located 15 kilometers from Bamako. Access to care for her brother was very difficult, because their nearest health center was far from their home, and there were not enough health providers in her neighborhood.
My family had great difficulty in accessing care when my brother needed it, and the expense of this care was enormous compared to my family’s ability to pay. Given all the difficulties that my brother and parents experienced accessing the care needed, I decided to study medicine. —Mariam Cissé, Urban Site Coordinator
Mariam’s studies led her to complete her medical degree at the University of Bamako, with a focus on anesthesiology, and later worked in anesthesiology and resuscitation for two years. She notes that in spite of her training, she could not save many of the patients who arrived at her facility for care.
It was this that allowed me to reflect on how my work could save the most people.
Mariam’s search for roles where her work could produce improved health outcomes impact led her to the nonprofit sector, and in 2009 she was recruited to join the team at Helen Keller International, where she became a Research Assistant working on a program for the management of moderate acute malnutrition. In 2012-2016, she held supervisory and coordinating roles at the same organization, leading research projects on areas ranging from malnutrition prevention and management to national security and climate change. Of her time at Helen Keller International, Mariam notes: “When I started working on a malnutrition research agenda in Dioila, a village 200 kilometers from Bamako, in 2009, we had neither electricity or telephone lines, but each child under my care was healed of malnutrition. I was so proud to have participated in their survival, supporting patients in all conditions. The results of this research study led to a change in malnutrition treatment protocol in Mali and globally. I took pride in continuing to work in malnutrition for seven years, saving children.”
In 2017, Mariam joined the Muso team as our Urban Site Coordinator. She says:
When I joined Muso’s team and understood our vision of health, I knew that I was at the right place.
In Mariam’s role as Urban Site Coordinator, she oversees all of Muso’s health care delivery activities at our peri-urban site Yirimadio, a rapidly-growing and urbanizing community on the outskirts of Mali’s capital city, Bamako, and the location of Muso’s headquarters. Working in partnership with our Mali Country Director and the peri-urban team she leads, Mariam ensures the annual, monthly, and daily efficacy of all programmatic health care delivery activities in Yirimadio, including Muso’s support to the government-run community health center, coordination of referrals and emergency care, and management of 175 Community Health Workers and 10 CHW Supervisors.
Speaking to the changes she has seen in Yirimadio over time, Mariam highlights the increase in access to care and difference of child mortality that entire communities have seen is possible, and the confidence community members now have in the quality of the health services provided.
Mariam describes the commitment of Malian citizens and the government to changing the country’s health policy, and says of the President’s February 2019 national health system reform commitment, “We will save innumerable lives. Parents who do not have the means, like mine in the past, will no longer face the impossible reality of being unable to care for their sick child because they can’t afford to pay. Mali’s national health policy reform, providing free care to children, women, and the elderly, is a major commitment that I was very proud to have participated in. We are making big changes.”
I envision a future in which patients across Mali see a decrease in mortality rates as we have seen in Yirimadio, and a considerable improvement in health indicators. We must continue to accompany national health policy to deliver impact.