What drew you to this role with Ascend?
We have the opportunity not only to improve people’s lives directly through medical interventions to control neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), which are horrible diseases, but also to change the long-term future prospects for affected communities by changing how these diseases are managed.
We are helping shift responsibility for the management of NTDs away from donors and International NGOs, to the right place – the ministries of health in each country, where decisions are made at the local level. I also love this programme because it involves working with a wide variety of people from over 15 countries: epidemiologists, parasitologists, social scientists, statisticians to fund managers.
Can you share some of the bigger achievements you’ve had this past year?
I’m really proud of the way the team is pushing the boundaries in NTDs. Our Country Lead in Mozambique, Gertrudes, has delivered 20 million MDA treatments at a cost of only £0.08p per treatment. Her team achieved this by working directly with local provincial health authorities, which means Ascend was able to build capacity and keep programme knowledge within government systems – something that is important to Ascend.
Also, Atia, our country lead in Sudan led a health assessment to the Nuba mountains in Sudan resulting in NTD services resuming there after 30 years. Meanwhile our supply chain team is challenging the way NTD medicines are treated by Customs and Medical Stores bodies. NTDs were seen as being outside the main health system, meaning drugs were being overcharged. Our team is no longer standing for this.
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?
Our team is about 50:50 male to female, but in our headquarters, it is dominated by women!
Our management team has women in most of the key roles: Programme Director, Team Leader, Programme Manager, our Monitoring and Evaluation and Learning lead and Fund Management lead. Half of the Regional Manager roles are also filled by women.
Meanwhile the majority of the men on Ascend have progressive attitudes to working with women and are keen to identify how best Ascend can address issues that particularly affect women — such as female genital schistosomiasis — or to ensure that women get the equal access to treatments such as trachoma trichiasis, which can lead to loss of eyesight from Trachoma if left untreated.
What challenge are you working to overcome through your role and work with Ascend and how?
There are a lot of systemic challenges in global health that mean those in most need do not receive health services. This is particularly the case for Neglected Tropical Diseases as they affect remote communities and those without political influence.
From the way national funds are allocated, how data is stored and shared, to how medicines enter the supply chain, there are disincentives to effective management, including dominance by International NGOs and donors over decision making.
What do you enjoy about being a professional/working woman?
Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, I consider myself extremely lucky to have a rewarding job and I’m particularly grateful to be able to use my skills and energy towards a meaningful goal.
I’m the first generation in my family where women have worked at the same time as bringing up children. I’m also lucky to have a supportive husband who shares domestic and childcare responsibilities, which was not the case for many in my mum’s generation, nor for many women in developing countries.
I think it’s really important that my daughter – and my son – see their mum working.