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The Women Behind the Data: An Interview with Two Supervisors from PMA2020 Nigeria

Behind every PMA2020 dataset is a team of people working tirelessly to accurately represent the stories of women and girls, families and households, and the state of their country’s health facilities. They transform human experiences into valuable, usable data that are disseminated throughout the world to inform stakeholders and policy decisions.

Two such women, Abisola Olapeju and Oby Emesi (photo: left to right, respectively) are field supervisors for PMA2020’s population-based survey projects in Nigeria. Somewhat coincidentally, they both studied public health in the United Kingdom before returning home to Nigeria. Abisola worked with the UK National Health Service on sexual health improvement and maternal and infant health; and Oby focused on occupational and environmental health. When they each heard about PMA2020, they were excited about the possibility of continuing their public health work in their own country.

Both ladies agree that considering every step that goes into data collection and analysis, they learn the most in the field. As supervisors, they have attended numerous trainings, refined their management skills and content knowledge, and conducted both pilot and real surveys to prepare for their work and to troubleshoot any issues that may arise.  


Abisola explains that PMA2020 has incredibly high response rates from survey respondents because the female data collectors (resident enumerators or REs) and supervisors give focused attention to every person that is interviewed. When the data collector detects that an individual is hesitant to open up, she tries her best to connect with them to make them feel comfortable, explaining the purpose of PMA2020 – to ultimately improve the reproductive health of women in Nigeria, through quality data. “Sometimes I uses a specific local dialect that is more familiar to the respondent to make sure that the respondent and their story are at the core of data collection,” explains Abisola.

Oby agrees, explaining that PMA2020 is more than a survey; it brings communities life.

In their opinion, this focus on respondents as people and not just statistics makes PMA2020 data so high quality. Another key factor is the adaptability of the mobile phone technology, which reflects the dynamic nature of the data they gather. As supervisors, they are constantly able to have a pulse of the fieldwork as it is going on, understand the situations, and catch any errors before they are translated into results that are shared with decision-makers.

For Abisola and Oby, communication is not only key to working in the field; it is key to collaborating with REs and data auditors as well. Oby explains that when she began working with PMA2020, she immediately felt comfortable discussing her thoughts with the people around her. Everyone on the team is open, brings up pertinent issues, and works together to critically think through and solve problems.

This is probably why the PMA2020 Nigeria team has formed such a strong community, with a little help from a WhatsApp group chat among the supervisors. The ladies mention that, “every birth, wedding anniversary, anything that is worth celebrating,” they celebrate together. In fact, they have even coined terms for “PMA weddings” and “PMA babies,” for any big events that happen to team members.

The culmination of all their work truly represents the efforts of every team member, from their fellow supervisors, REs, data auditors, and principal investigators.

During a recent dissemination event, Abisola explains, “I got to see the expressions of all the stakeholders and hear their take on the data, which is very fulfilling.”

Abisola and Oby appreciate every step of PMA2020, from training to data collection to cleaning to dissemination. For them, the process of transforming stories into data into action has become tangible, meaningful, and rewarding. They hope to see more and more of the data being used to inform family planning and other health programs and policies in Nigeria, to improve the lives of the women, girls, and families, the faces behind the data that they will never forget.

Written by: Sanam Bhatia
Interviewed/photographed by: Esther Pak