Flowers Blossom again in Oxford


Flowers in bossom again in Oxford

I have always sought to challenge myself and have new experiences, and this year is no exception! My year at Oxford will be the longest I’ve been away from home and as we battle the pandemic globally, it is one of the most challenges years in the world.


gloomy weather in a field in Oxfordshire, a single tree in the foreground, mist in the distance

Cold, gloomy weather in Oxford (Shiemaa Ahmed)

In December 2020, and right before the end of our Christmas break, the UK went into a complete lockdown which meant that the MBA Hilary Term teaching (the second academic term at Oxford) went fully online. A frustrating but much understandable and needed step by the British government as the number of cases surpassed 50,000.


I was planning to go home in January, but after the new COVID variant in the UK, I was unable to enter Sudan. Hilary term was fully online, and I was neither prepared for the cold, nor the empty Oxford streets in winter, so I went for runs at freezing degrees, went on walks with friends and kept myself sane by connecting with my family and friends back home.


In Sudan, and alongside the pandemic, there has been a severe shortage in life-saving medicines and a massive increase in drug prices. In a world equally suffering from COVID19, it is very worrying to see people unable to gain access to cancer drugs. I thought to myself, how would it be after the vaccines are produced?


The most famous vaccines undergoing trials/have been approved are BioNTech and Pfizer, Oxford and AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, Janssen, Valneva, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi Pasteur. As of April 2021, the UK had secured 457 million doses combined! Sudan has secured Zero. I was getting tested with rapid COVID19 tests that give results in 30 minutes while people queued up for hours to get tests in Sudan. I felt extreme privilege!


Lateral flow Covid 19 test result

Photo shows a test I took on 12 February (Shiemaa Ahmed).

We got tested every week since December using Lateral Flow tests that give results in 30 minutes.


The logistics of pharmaceuticals in the world is a very interesting but an extremely unequal space. I wanted that to be the focus of my GOTO projects – Global Opportunities and Threats Oxford is a term-long systems mapping exercise where we got to choose one of four broad areas to focus on; Health, Economic, Social and Environmental systems - Understanding how the health systems work and what causes such inequalities was my main motivation to choosing the Health track, and the fact that I was unaware of most of these things intrigued me to educate and challenge myself.


I used up my very lengthy spare time during the lockdown to go on walks and listen to Peter Drobac’s podcast “Reimagine” as he talked about systems reset and the world we want after COVID, read about how the economic policies in Sudan to float the currency affected drug prices and access , but what was striking the most, highlighted by my GOTO teammate was the high prevalence of falsified medicines in Sub-Saharan Africa. The fact that in the midst of a global pandemic, with an already fragile healthcare systems, 42% of falsified medicines are in Africa is shocking! Our recommendations included the localisation of drug manufacturing in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is beneficial both from a health and economic perspectives.


Magnolia tree blossoms above a high stone wall in Oxford

Flowers Blossom again in Oxford (Shiemaa Ahmed)

By April, the flowers started to blossom in Oxford, students started coming back and the school building was open once again. Sudan was the first country in MENA region to receive vaccines from COVAX; the coalition co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Gavi, the Global Vaccines Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). 17 million doses are much less than what the country needs, but it is a great start to facilitate equal access to healthcare systems.


As we move to a post-COVID world, we need to increase global cooperation, rethink our systems and be more resilient in the face of future crises. In the national levels as well, we need to rethink our priorities and build systems that put people first.