Access to Health began working in Lagos, Nigeria in 2016, in partnership with the Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) and the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlements Federation. In March, a group of Northwestern medical, business, and law students and faculty conducted a health needs assessment with partner communities and found that many of the people were lacking basic health literacy. Through a Federation Health Board, the students also learned that even where the government mandates specific services for vulnerable or at risk groups, many people are unable to access these services due to language, financial, or educational barriers. 

In response, in October 2016, a holistic program was developed utilizing the platforms already established by our partner JEI to increase health literacy, access, and rights. The program trains community-nominated educators how to teach health issues identified as a priority by the communities. Utilizing adult focused, low-literacy, knowledge exchange approaches, ATH provides two trainings - one in basic health knowledge and a second in how to teach basic health. At the same time, the program is expanding health access by:

  • Mapping the clinics and government health services available to each community through community information gathering methods and returning the data to the communities;
  • Building partnerships with government ministries and the Lagos University Teaching Hospital;
  • Working with JEI paralegals on basic health law, who together with the community health educators, will work to ensure accountability and combat corruption in accessing care;
  • Partnering with the Red Cross in Lagos to ensure basic first aid skills reach communities; and
  • Surveying communities to map health education and behavior change over time.

Additional community health education trainings were held in Lagos in March 2017, September 2017, April 2018, and September 2019. Currently, each month 27 community health educators (CHEs) provide on average 25 community health talks, assist five persons per month with health care accompaniment, and provide monthly health campaigns including community sanitation improvement and participation in vaccine and family planning campaigns.

The Access to Health partnership expanded to improve the community health education curriculum, develop new modules based on the CHEs interest and find ways to make the trainings more interactive and scalable. In November 2017, an external partnership was developed with the University of Illinois – Chicago’s Biomedical Visualization Program. Master of Science in Global Health students have assisted in developing new modules on hypertension and mental health. Medill graduate students and faculty have reported on access to health issues in Lagos.

In 2018 a collaboration was developed with Slalom, a consulting firm with expertise in informatics and business processes. The Slalom team designed a website and mobile application solution to increase access to health information and transparency to services. The website provided updated, visual training materials to the CHEs and, because the team used a template that did not require coding skills, the solution was scalable and user-friendly for the Federation data team. Slalom also developed a mobile platform so that CHEs could access the information in the field.

With the spread of COVID-19, ATH continued to support the Federation with educational materials on the disease.

This project continues to grow as we are currently working with Professor Marya Lieberman, a professor in analytical chemistry at the University of Notre Dame who has invented paper analytical devices that can be used to test counterfeit medication.


Liu DY, Maki AW, Maitland A, Meyer ER, Sorensen JS, Galvin S. Enhancing Knowledge in Informal Settlements: Assessing Health Beliefs and Behaviors in Nigeria. Annals of Global Health. 2020; 86(1): 120, 1–14. DOI:  
Alexandra Tarzikhan’s poster for the Institute for Global Health’s Global Health Education Day 2020
2019 Trip Video
“To Return a King” by By Dan Order (MSJ18) and Kaitlin Englund (MSJ18), published in Al Jazeera English on June 3, 2019
Elise Meyer’s poster for the American University of Beirut’s Global Health Forum 2018
Students Assess Needs of Poorest Communities in Nigeria
ATH in Lagos, Nigeria: Finding the First Step
ATH in Lagos, Nigeria: A Health and Human Rights Assessment
Lagos is Burning: The Unlawful Demolition of Slums Flies in the Face of the Nigerian Government’s mega-city dreams