Senior Immunization Technical Officer and Technical Lead
Soon you will be celebrating your 20th anniversary with JSI! Can you tell us about how you got here?
In my college years, I worked at Peace Corps headquarters and with the United Nations Volunteers — which helped to shape my interest in public health, and particularly maternal and child health. I was initially introduced to immunization work rather unexpectedly. I had been hired by JSI to help close out the child health work in South America and Yemen under the REACH project, when the Soviet Union collapsed. The post-Soviet states were cut off from their vaccination supply and, as a result, found themselves in a public health emergency, notably related to diphtheria epidemics. We worked alongside members of Al Gore’s team and the Departments of State and Defense to help provide emergency immunization support from a partnership with the US and Japanese governments, the NIS countries, and donors. It was a high profile, intense, and exciting beginning to what has now become my history in immunization work. Since then (and after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon doing MCH and immunization), I have been an immunization technical focal point working in countries like Madagascar, India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Kenya and many others.
What do you enjoy about the immunization field?
I like that we have the ability to see concrete results – we can observe (and measure) coverage rates going up and infections going down. It is also a population-based service, so regardless of whether you are rich or poor, rural or urban, immunization works to target and benefit everyone.
What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned during your time at JSI?
I learn every day from the countries and our field teams/colleagues. A key lesson is that there is no public health problem that can be looked at without taking into account the larger context that you are working in. Issues regarding immunization cannot be properly addressed without considering the capacity and needs of the health system in the country itself and the inter-relatedness with other diseases and health and socio-economic priorities, from sanitation to Ebola, HIV, etc.
It is helpful to approach one’s work with an anthropological lens. Staff working on the ground must always take into consideration and respect the needs and situations of the people they are working with.
When you listen to others, they better trust and respect you. One of the most rewarding moments that I experienced was when we were presenting at a project closeout with the Minister of Health of DRC. During his speech, he referred to me as “their umbilical cord to the United States” because I understood the needs and perspectives and worked to better the lives of the Congolese. I was part of their family. I was there. Even today, remembering that moment makes me emotional.
What is an issue that you are particularly passionate about?
Over the years, I have always stressed the importance of parents having a record of their child’s vaccinations. I believe this is an area of public health that we fail to adequately communicate and emphasize. JSI recently, however, received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a project to help improve the design and availability of these home-based records and make them more user-friendly (including documentation of our previous experiences in Madagascar and Ethiopia and some implementation research in 4 countries). I am excited that this issue is being seen as increasingly relevant and critical.
What has kept you at JSI over the years?
I appreciate the technical integrity that JSI has in the field of public health and international development. We also have the benefit of not being tied to a certain specialization or party-line. For that reason, we can apply a more holistic approach to our work.
On a more personal note, I love the general aesthetic of JSI. We get to be a part of a company that not only does great work, but also values the contributions, opinions, capacities, and skills of staff. I also enjoy that I never do the same thing twice. For example, between 1998 and 2006, I traveled to the DRC over 30 times. Yet every time I returned, the nature of the project would change. We started with immunization but then incorporated malaria, nutrition, and many other components. It’s rare to find a job that is this dynamic and always changing!
What do you like to do outside of work?
I am a huge fan of snorkeling and the ocean. It’s a relaxing environment and often helps me step away from the chaos of my work. I also come from a big family – my Mom is one of 11 and my Dad is one of 8 – so I love spending time with them when I can. My other hobbies include doing yoga, pool, and being outdoors.
Are there any countries left on your travel bucket list?
There are a few. Believe it or not, with all my travels, I have yet to see quite a bit of Europe – such as Greece, Croatia, Czech Republic or more of France and Spain. Perhaps I should finally complete the post-college trip to Europe that I never got around to doing?