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Meet Aja Koul — Country Lead, South Sudan /

What do you lead on?  

I lead the country programme and work closely with our government counterparts, implementing partners and donors. I also work closely with the Ascend Nairobi hubs and consortium members to obtain the necessary support to run the programme effectively in South Sudan.  

What drew you to this role? 

I joined the Public Health profession a few years back. I have been working in the field and gained a lot of experience through working on various health programmes in different settings, addressing the needs of people in conflict and post conflict as well as in development and humanitarian settings.  

In the past 5 years, I chose to focus on neglected tropical disease due to its diverse effect in communities in South Sudan. This field is rather challenging and unique in a sense that our efforts are solely on addressing the needs of the communities affected by those diseases, but I’m seeing the difference the programme is making every day! 

Can you share an example of some of the bigger achievements you’ve had this past year? 

The South Sudan programme is among the largest portfolio of Ascend Lot 1. We are covering all five-disease priorities for this Ascend programme. This is good for the country, because of the need and magnitude of the NTD problems. 

We have also been working closely with the ministry of health to identify several implementing partners with a strong background in NTDs to support the delivery of services in South Sudan. I should admit, it was a difficult process, but rewarding. The few partners we currently engage with are strong, are pioneers in the field and they have a strong presence in the country 

Do you work in a team, country, role of field that is predominantly male? If so, how have you overcome any challenges relating to this? 

Yes, all the Ascend teams in South Sudan are male. My counterparts in the ministry are also male. But they are wonderfully supporting me and the programme and demonstrate respect and support! I believed we have a great team! 

What challenge are you working to overcome through your role and work with Ascend and how?  

The role of country lead in Ascend is a very challenging role and I choose to face the challenge.  

Ascend is a very demanding and high-profile programme. Our approach aspires to share and consult as widely as possible, recognising that in some cases a smaller group is required for rapid decision making.  We focus on measurable output and assess progress daily. We work closely with the ministry and partners to build programme capacity, champion more integrated approaches to tackling NTDs and provide sustainable solutions. This all requires the team to pay attention to details.  

As a lead, you need to have a flexible mindset and the ability to admit failure.