Explore the Blog Explore Blog

Author Archives: Najaf Ahmad

Three Things the United States Can Learn About Public Health From Around the World

Jul 23, 2015, 10:45 AM, Posted by Najaf Ahmad

When it comes to bridging health and health care delivery, the U.S. has an opportunity to learn from global innovations that link the public health, social services, and health care systems.

Globe Image via Joseph Li

It started with three hundred Boy Scouts from across Uganda being trained as “social monitors”. They were tasked with reporting the conditions of their communities to Uganda’s Ministry of Health through their mobile phones. In less than a year, these “U-reporters” grew to over 89,000. The U-report itself is a free SMS-based system that allows young Ugandans to share what’s happening in their communities and work with community leaders and government to affect positive change. The information gathered is disseminated through radio, TV, websites, youth events, community dialogue and other ways.

This system of real time surveillance is a vital new development for the world’s fifth-fastest growing country. Reliable health information in Uganda can mean the difference between life and death. As has been seen recently, epidemics like Ebola or West Nile thrive on information delays. Furthermore, U-reports are empowering Ugandans to share responsibility for creating healthier conditions within their communities.

The U-report is just one of the many exciting global innovations highlighted in a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and AcademyHealth. Written by Margo Edmunds and Ellen Albritton at AcademyHealth, the report showcases innovations that link public health, social services, and health care systems. These initiatives serve as examples of bridging otherwise disparate elements of health and health care delivery. The authors deliberately selected racially, ethnically and economically diverse regions around the world to ensure that their innovations were applicable to and reflected the diversity of the United States. A Google Hangout also convened several experts to discuss the report’s findings.  

View full post

Investing in Systems Changes to Transform Lives

Mar 10, 2015, 10:00 AM, Posted by Catherine Malone, Najaf Ahmad

We know that in order to address health disparities head on, we'll have to implement changes to the systems that influence where we live, learn, work, and play. Oscar and Jose's stories show us that it's possible.   

I was looking at somebody who could be a great person...who could do something great in his future. I also knew that if I sent him to prison, I’d knock him off of that road to success.

In the quote above, Steven Teske, a Juvenile Chief Judge in Clayton County, Georgia is describing the first time he encountered 15-year-old Oscar Mayes as he entered the courtroom in handcuffs. Judge Teske noticed that Oscar was an extremely bright young man and that he had no prior run-ins with the law. Yet Oscar was facing five years in the state’s long term lock up—five years that could have ruined his future.

Fortunately, Oscar literally got a Second Chance. This Clayton County initiative gives youth facing prison an opportunity to redeem themselves through intensive supervision, participation in evidence-based treatment programs, and weekly check-ins with the court. Judge Teske and others in his community had realized that too many of their students were falling out of school and heading into the criminal justice system. To address this, the Juvenile Court partnered with local schools and law enforcement to find ways of disciplining youth while keeping them “in school, out of court, and onto a positive, healthy future.”

Interventions like this have yielded impressive statistics in Clayton County: School arrests have gone down 83% and school attendance has gone up 86%. Clayton County’s approach to juvenile justice reflects the transformational impact that changing a system can have.

View full post

I'm Happy I Dropped my iPhone in the Pool ...

Jun 29, 2014, 11:23 AM, Posted by Najaf Ahmad

Bye Bye, iPhone

But I wasn't happy at first. While on vacation, I was mortified when I saw “him” lying at the bottom of the pool. “He” was my constant companion through boredom-and caffeine-fueled late-night working sessions.

Snap back to reality. Moments later my other companion—my husband—frantically rescued my iPhone from the depths of crystal clear waters. First aid involved promptly powering off the phone and depositing “him” into a bag of rice where “he” would remain for a week (or two!), drying out

View full post

My Doctor Used the "F" Word

Jun 26, 2013, 12:38 PM, Posted by Najaf Ahmad


He made a remark that I found deeply cutting and hard to digest (no pun intended). “You’re overweight. You need to do something about it”. OK, he didn’t use the word “overweight.” He actually used the “F” word. Fat.

I was taken aback. I was upset and hurt. I really didn’t believe him. Sure, I’d gained some weight, but not that much. I certainly wasn’t gorging on cronuts, sconuts and cookie dough batter. (Although I guess I had rekindled my affair with Ben and Jerry.)

Besides, was a doctor really supposed to be saying this to me? “No!” my friends reassured me. “You’re not fat. Besides, you just had a baby! Dump your doctor and find a new one!”

View full post

Living in a Sugar Nation: Can We Win the Battle Against a Silent Killer?

Oct 25, 2011, 1:08 PM, Posted by Najaf Ahmad

By Najaf Ahmad, MPH, Communications Associate, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital Portfolio


Walking through Barnes & Noble recently, a book on the “New Arrivals” rack stopped me in my tracks. By now you may know about My Sugar Obsession. So despite being in a rush, I was immediately drawn to Sugar Nation.

Imagine reuniting with a father you haven’t seen in years, finding him in an unrecognizable condition—a “human body in the process of cannibalizing itself”—on death’s door with a missing limb. Author Jeff O’Connell begins with this moving story of how he learned that his estranged father was slowly dying from the ravages of type 2 diabetes.

Despite having learned of his father’s leg amputation weeks earlier, O’Connell—former editor-in-chief at Muscle & Fitness magazine and executive writer at Men’s Health magazine—was certain he had nothing to worry about. He worked out, was lean and appeared healthy. His thin physique didn’t fit the stereotype of someone predisposed to developing type 2 diabetes.

A sobering visit with his doctor shook O’Connell to his core. He was diagnosed with pre-diabetes and headed down the same path as his father. Rather than accepting this fate though, he embarked on a mission to fight back against the enemy lurking within him. In doing so, he unearthed crucial information on how lifestyle factors influence diabetes.

More interestingly, he discovered the troubling manner in which health care providers are (or are not) responding to this burgeoning problem, going so far as to say that many “seem clueless when it comes to diagnosing this disease, let alone treating it.”

Although genes play a prominent role in predisposing someone to type 2 diabetes, lifestyle is a major influence. O’Connell underscores how type 2 diabetes stems from “the sum total of a very long trail of personal choices, made over a lifetime.” We pay a heavy price for our love affair with sugar, as massive quantities from processed foods shock our bodies. It shouldn’t be surprising then that one in three adults in the United States now has a blood sugar abnormality that predisposes them to diabetes-related complications such as heart disease, kidney failure and blindness. Sadly, many do not know they are affected until they develop these complications.

View full post

My Sugar Obsession

Jun 20, 2011, 1:23 PM, Posted by Najaf Ahmad

Najaf Ahmad, M.P.H., is a Communications Associate with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Human Capital Portfolio. She has contributed to RWJF’s efforts in the areas of health insurance coverage and nursing since joining the Foundation in 2004, and is currently working on initiatives to build capacity in the health and health care workforce.


I’m obsessed with sugar and so is my husband. It wasn’t always this way; we used to spend many evenings sharing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s curled up in front of the TV.

That was until we became neurotic new parents.

In our quest to become good—and healthy—parents, nutrition became a new-found obsession. Our determination to model healthy behaviors for our child meant, among other things, reassessing our diet. To guide our efforts, we spent many evenings voraciously reading up on diet and nutrition–this time without Ben & Jerry.

It was right around then that I first heard of award-winning science journalist Gary Taubes. He had just published Good Calories, Bad Calories, his magnum opus examining the relationship between carbohydrates and obesity. A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator in Health Policy Research, Taubes has rediscovered the relationship between excess consumption of sugar, chronic health problems, obesity and food policy. He is one of only a few journalists that the Investigator program has funded.

View full post