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[Story Telling for SDG Implementation] Hayoung Jeon (MDP 2016)

  • Date 2022-06-22 13:31
  • CategoryStory
  • Hit277

NB: This interview is part of the series, ‘Story Telling for SDG Implementation: Case Studies from Around the World.’ It is a KDIS Alumni Working Partner Program initiative run by Ms. Cynthia Mbabazi (MPP 2019) and Mr. Socrates Luseka (MDP 2019).

By sharing stories of notable KDIS Alumni involved in various SDG implementing initiatives, they hope to inspire other KDIS community members to implement SDGs in their own areas of practice.

Ms. Hayoung Jeon is a seasoned Korean researcher whose projects center around health issues. She has worked at UNFPA in Zambia as a Youth Health and Development Programme Officer; at JW Lee Center for Global Medicine, Seoul National University; at KOICA -Dominican Republic as a Project Associate on Teenage Pregnancy Prevention, just to name but a few. She met Cynthia (MPP 2019) and Socrates (MDP 2019) to have a conversation around her experiences and how pivotal they’ve been in implementing SDG 3: Good Health & Well-being.


What shaped your interest in the health arena?

There are two reasons to this.

First, it is due to experience with sickness in my family. Whenever I’d go to the hospital to visit my hospitalized family members, I’d notice the healthcare inequality amongst the people  in the hospital. Thankfully my family members were able to pay their hospital bills but there were some families that lacked the financial ability to offset their bills

The second reason is aligned to my first work experience after my undergraduate. Working in a local clinic in Lusaka, Zambia, I came to find out that many adolescent girls and young women had either contracted HIV/AIDS or were pregnant. This was a culture shock because it was a rare thing amongst Korean teenagers. I had an interview with a 43-year-old woman who had a granddaughter in elementary school. Her daughter, aged 13 years had made her a grandmother at such a young age. I was intrigued to find out the factors that lead to such early pregnancy cases.

Therefore, my personal family experience and work experience in Zambia contributed immensely to my interest in the health sector.

What role did KDI School play in fashioning you into the effective professional that you are today?

Before joining KDI School, I had worked on a project in Zambia and Belgium and had come to realize that working in the international development sector requires a master’s degree (as one of the basic qualification requirements). I was advised that KDI School was one of the schools with many knowledge sharing programs and a large network of professionals from Africa, South America, South Asia etc. As such I figured that  KDI School would therefore be the best school for me to expand my network, not only in Korea but also with people from developing countries, and help build on my passion for implementing projects in Africa. 

The knowledgeable professors with specialties in policy and development, particularly in the health sector, demographics and social development had a positive influence on me. The most memorable course that improved my project knowledge was ‘Monitoring and Evaluation for Public Policy’ taught by Professor Paik Sung Joon. I  admired my research supervisor Professor Choi, whose vast background on population and demographics in the US, immensely shaped my understanding of this area. I do appreciate my supervisor’s advice and guidance in population and development as well as social development.

I am also grateful for the student networks that I made at KDI School, such as the African Development Forum (ADF). Through the forum, I got to know many projects that the members were doing in their home countries which improved my overall knowledge and understanding of the African countries. Based on these networks and the knowledge shared by fellow graduates, I became more knowledgeable and determined  to work in international development.  

You come from a country with  a very good health care system and have worked in developing countries like Zambia, Dominican Republic and Malawi, where healthcare is a tad fledgling. In their quest to meet SDG no. 3, name three things you feel that the health sector in these 3 countries can borrow from South Korea?

That’s a tough question (chuckles). From what I know, S. Korea has one of the strongest national health insurance systems in the world. I believe experiences and lessons drawn from our national health insurance system, would be helpful to  the 3 countries.

S. Korea has also made a considerable effort in supporting people with disabilities, the refugees and the migrants. In the same vein, the 3 countries could step up in the provision of  healthcare support to marginalized groups, who make a considerable proportion of the population in developing countries.

Lastly, considering the large health inequalities between urban and rural areas in the countries, they could opt to increase the financing of healthcare systems in rural areas just like how South Korea has done in its bid to reduce the health gap between urban and rural areas.

As a Youth Health and Development Programme Officer at United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Zambia, most of the projects and programs that you were a part were on  youth health, teenage pregnancy and what not. Briefly share your experience. And did you encounter any challenges?

Well, UNFPA Zambia remains my most interesting workplace. Not only did I get the opportunity to expand my professional networks but I also learnt a lot. As a then UN health and development program officer, I mostly worked on the country program for ‘adolescents and youth’s sexual reproductive health, child marriage and teenage pregnancy.’ We worked alongside other UN agencies like UNICEF, IOM, WHO and UNHCR.

In Zambia, HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancy are challenges that a good number of adolescent girls and young women are grappling with. On this front, I did program planning and monitored program indicators based on activities, outcomes and outputs. We planned national and sub-national projects. In some of our technical meetings and focus groups, I realized that adolescent girls and young women rarely participated in the planning sessions. So, at times I’d organize  dialogue sessions for adolescents and young people to talk about their own health issues like child marriage or teenage pregnancy.

Additionally, I’d work with teenagers who had dropped out of school due to early pregnancies. Even though Zambia had a school returning policy, there was still fear for teenage mothers to return to school because of social norms. We therefore developed safe space programs where school dropouts would share their own experiences and feel accepted, as well as get trained to be peer educators. Peer educators would then teach fellow young girls in the community about pregnancy issues etc. We also fostered some south-south cooperation, especially on Rwanda. Rwanda has many innovations for adolescent girls and young women. At some point I organized a south-south cooperation knowledge sharing session between Rwanda, Zambia, Lesotho and Eswatini.

As for challenges, I did not experience much. The few I had revolved around language barrier and time management. Whenever I’d go to the field for monitoring, I’d have a challenge talking to some girls and women given that most could not speak English. Thankfully, the national staff helped in the translation. On matters time management, most of the people that I worked with didn’t keep time. But I got the hang of it as time went by.


For the number of projects that you have worked on in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Korea, what have been some of the most fascinating ones, and why?

The most interesting project I ever worked on was the formulation of a program that allowed girls in Zambia to participate in initiatives and activities on sexual reproductive health, in order to reduce child marriage and teenage pregnancy.

As a Research Associate at JW Lee Center for Global Medicine (Seoul National University), the research that I did on the Southern African Development Community was quite interesting. While reviewing program reports and published papers on adolescents and sexual reproductive health, I found out that there was little to no research done in some countries like Lesotho, Eswatini and Comoros because they lacked research funding from international organizations, civil society and academic institutions. On the other hand, countries like Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa possessed a vast amount of research because of the available research funding resources. To close that research gap, I recommended knowledge sharing programs between these countries.


Having been a part of a key number of health-related research projects, how important do you think health research is to implementing SDG no. 3?

Health Research is definitely very important. Even though I have witnessed considerable efforts in my area of experience i.e. national projects on women and adolescent’s reproductive health, I still feel there is more research that is needed to be done (in other areas) in order to implement SDG no. 3 such as reducing health illiteracy, inequality, developing integrated health systems, among others.


If you were the health minister of a developing country, what kind of policies might you reinforce to help the country meet SDG no 3 on time? (Factor in the few resources, and other challenges that you’ve observed while working in developing countries)

Based on my experiences working in Zambia, Malawi and Southern Africa, I would develop policies to expand health services for the marginalized in the community such as people with disabilities, migrants and refugees. This is because the marginalized lack access to basic healthcare services.

Secondly, I would develop policies that encourage the return of trained health workers in the diaspora to serve their country. Most trained health experts that are trained in the diaspora do not want to return due to the low-income, inadequate work facilities and low standards of living which causes brain drain. The policies would aim at improving these conditions so that these professionals find it easy to come back.

Lastly, there is still a large health literacy gap in rural communities in developing countries. I would recommend capacity building of community healthcare workers so as to share correct health information with adolescent girls and boys, men and women on vital issues like sexual reproductive health, communicable diseases, COVID-19 among others.

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