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Meet Tina Chisenga, Assistant Director for Communicable Diseases, Ministry of Health, Zambia

5th March 2021

To ensure long-term, sustainable delivery of NTD services, Ascend Lot 1 works closely with ministries of health in the 11 countries it works in to support them and provide a range of resources, including training, data programmes, supply chain management and support in the field.

Dr. Tina Chisenga is the programme’s partner in Zambia’s ministry of health.

What do you lead on in the Ministry?  

I coordinate and supervise the formulation, review and implementation of policies in neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and other communicable disease programs.

This includes monitoring and evaluation as well as research of epidemiology and disease control in order to implement appropriate interventions that are integrated and evidence based. I further coordinate and supervise regular surveillance and control measures for these diseases. 

What drew you to this role? 

The ministry of health aims to provide effective quality healthcare services, ensures equity of access to health care service and contributes to human and socioeconomic development by supporting a nation of healthy and productive people. This vision and the mission of the ministry resounds well with me because they are in line with why I wanted to become a doctor and why I have taken up this role. 

I do not like to see people suffering due to ill health and want to be involved in improving people’s health and wellbeing. NTDs continue to be neglected globally and do not get much attention in terms of support compared to other diseases. However, they threaten more than 1.7 billion people living in the poorest and most marginalized communities worldwide.

These diseases blind, disable and disfigure people, taking away not only their health, but also their chances of staying in school, earning a living, or even being accepted and respected by their family or community. If I can change the outcome of even just one person from being afflicted by these diseases, I would have achieved one of the main reasons I took up this role. 

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

One of the big achievements in the past year was that Zambia commemorated the first ever World NTD Day alongside the rest of the world. This was done with support from Ascend and funding from FCDO. The commemoration was graced by the Minister of Health and it brought together more than 200 participants ranging from civil society advocates, community leaders, gate keepers, religious leaders, experts and policymakers working across the NTD landscape. It also unified partners behind the common goal to end NTDs for good.  

It was particularly a big achievement for me having been part of the Zambia delegation that endorsed the creation of this day at the World Health Assembly and then seeing it come to being in my country! For the first time ever, NTDs had their own platform for raising awareness and being prominent in health calendars globally. 

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? 

In the health sector, most of the workers are female and luckily my team is well balanced by both males and females. However, senior management, which I am a part of, is predominantly male as is the case in almost all sectors. But I have no issues with my male coworkers and they always treat me with the utmost respect at all times. 

Most of the challenges I face come from dealing with people outside of the office, especially outside the health sector. There are challenges that I face that my male colleagues would not necessarily face simply because I am a woman.

For example, there is a stereotype of what role a woman should play in the health sector. I have to prove that I am capable and deserve to be in my place of work to those I may be meeting for the first time such as cooperating partners, senior officials from the provinces and the districts, as well as clients of health services. In contrast, that respect is inherently earned by my male colleagues. 

I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have been treated like I am not in a leadership role. I mitigate this by introducing myself with my title as soon as I meet someone for the first time professionally. I have also learned throughout the years that speaking up is very important. I used to keep my mouth shut, even when I had an idea or I disagreed. Now, I will never let myself go unheard, and that confidence has been instrumental in building my credibility. 

Knowledge is power. No one is going to understand the female perspective if we do not explain how specific situations in the workplace make us feel underscored, less than, or powerless.

Some will say that “sharing our feelings” (known as a female trait) is not the right route to take, but I wholeheartedly disagree. If I feel like I did not get a word in across during a meeting, I have no problem sharing that with my colleagues after the said meeting. Yes, there is a time and place for it, but we need to be a voice and an advocate for ourselves. If we do not have those conversations about our positions in the workplace from time to time, no one will ever understand our point of view and we will not make progress. 

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, we need to be an advocate and a sounding board for other women in male-dominated fields. If we are going to overcome these challenges, we need to build each other up, celebrate our wins, and share our stories to empower one another. 

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

The biggest challenge we have had to face is that of working through the Covid-19 Pandemic. 

The NTD program is straddled by strategies that are community based and require a lot of planning with various stakeholders. The last year has been difficult because we have been unable to meet for planning purposes and also have been unable to implement some of the interventions because they are community based.

In addition, we have been unable to get any international technical assistance because of the pandemic and therefore some strategic documents that require such assistance have been pending. Therefore, implementation of our work-plan with ASCEND has been slow.  

We have however, come up with a way forward that will see us meet all our targets in the work-plan by adjusting the way we do business to those that are in line with ensuring that everyone is still be protected from contracting Covid-19