Student Spotlight: Maryam Tavakkoli
03.02.2021 - An interview with Maryam Tavakkoli

Maryam Tavakkoli, a PhD student at Swiss TPH, researches road traffic evidence and information systems. "Studying at Swiss TPH has opened so many doors for me, like when I got to travel to the 2019 Unleash innovation lab in China and my dream come true—starting an internship at the WHO headquarters in Geneva."

Maryam, tell us a bit about your research at Swiss TPH

I started my PhD in Epidemiology and Public Health at Swiss TPH in 2018. My research is focused on road traffic crash data systems in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Every year, over one million people die due to road traffic injuries, with over 90% of these deaths occuring in LMICs. Having reliable and timely information about deaths is essential to set priorities and develop effective policies.

However, half of the countries around the world do not have a reliable source of information for road traffic injuries and deaths. Road traffic crash registration systems, for example, are at the intersection between multiple sub-systems hosted in different sectors. These information systems are usually incomplete, inconsistent, and operate in silos. To address this, I apply systems thinking tools to study the ways in which these systems are performing and find ways to improve their function. Doing my PhD at Swiss TPH has opened up a variety of opportunities for me to develop professional skills and expertise in a welcoming and supportive academic environment.

"Every year, over 1 million people die due to road traffic injuries, with more than 90% of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries"

Can you tell us about your internship at the World Health Organization?

During last two years, I had the privilege to work with the World Health Organization (WHO) on two, multi-country workshops on improving data for road traffic deaths in 2018 and 2019. After these amazing experiences, I applied for an internship at the WHO headquarters in Geneva and I was accepted! For me, it was a dream come true. During my internship, I worked on projects related to road traffic deaths registration systems.

One of the highlights of my internship was meeting talented interns from all over the world. We were the group who started our internships during the COVID-19 outbreak and made a special bond.

You also had the chance to go to the Unleash innovation lab in China - how was that?

It was fascinating. Unleash is a global innovation lab that brings together people from all over the world to transform personal insight into hundreds of ideas structured within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and build lasting global networks.

Because of my interest in road traffic safety, I applied to work on SDG 11: building sustainable cities and communities. After I was accepted, I went to China to meet with 1,000 other talents from around the world. I worked with four amazing team members in particular from Canada, Uganda, Thailand and the UK. Unleash innovation lab gave me the chance to practice working with individuals from different backgrounds including academia, government, private sector and more, in order to find the solutions for achieving the different SDGs.