At Nabudi, we love talking to the best professionals in Kenya. Over the next few weeks, we will be talking to the best of the best. Our first is Dr. Grace Ikahu Muchangi. She was the Head of the National Malaria Program in Kenya from 2019. She is also a wife and a medical doctor and senior public health specialist with more than thirteen years of experience in health policy, global health and diplomacy, and health systems.
We had a great time with her and hope you learn as much as we did.
How did you end up in the field of Public Health?
I performed exemplarily well in high school and was admitted to pursue Medicine at the University of Nairobi, after which; I pursued Masters in Public Health. Currently, I am a pursuing a PhD in Healthcare Management.
What fueled your passion to pursue Medicine?
I developed a passion for Medicine early in High School and maintained focus and objectivity towards the pursuit. Medicine was the only career option I had.
How is your typical day?
My typical day is pretty much exciting. It entails policy-making and participating in various policy discussions in the area of global health and health systems strengthening. I also attend high-level meetings often, after which I write reports and developing various policy documents from the reports. I also partake in health policy research a lot.
How do you Kickstart your day?
Typically, my day commences at 4 am. I like to read, and I keep reading various books for my personal development. I also make time for myself, just reflecting.
Early each day, I have developed a habit of checking my emails, reviewing my program for the day to check my work schedules prior to commencing the day. At times, I schedule time in the morning for my PhD academic research before 6 am. Then I also usually go to the gym before going to the office
Normally, my work commences from 8 to 5 daily on weekdays.
But ideally, I get most of my work done in the morning. My job also involves local and international travel quite often. I usually spend my evenings with my family.
What do you attribute to your being so productive?
“It would depend on whether someone is most productive in the morning or in the evening”. Nonetheless, my advice to people who are looking out to be most productive is early routine. However, as much as I advocate for early routine, I still acknowledge that some people work best in the evenings as opposed to mornings.
For those like myself, who find themselves most productive in the morning; I recommend making the best use of the morning hours. The reason being, mostly there are lots of distractions and interruptions during the day e.g. traffic, meetings, phone calls, etc.
Which experiences have shaped, or rather; prepared your being or becoming a health specialist?
Basically, after completing my medical degree, I went into clinical practice where I was treating patients. From there, I developed an interest in Public Health.
During the implementation phase, I worked in the field. Later, I found my way to the National Level in Public Health where I do more policymaking.
Currently, I am in the field of global health. Global Health concerns Health problems that affect people throughout the world at the international level. My particular focus is on Global Health Diplomacy. Global Health Diplomacy is where public health, foreign policy, and diplomacy intersect or rather; meet.
Which skills have made you be a global health specialist?
For my kind of work, soft and hard skills are imperative i.e. technical and non-technical skills. I have managed to obtain technical skills through schooling, and continuous learning, and being inquisitive, researching, short courses, and keeping myself up to date with relevant information.
I have also acquired non-technical skills through Communication, problem-solving, diplomacy, stakeholder engagement, coalition building, and management skills. I have also learned life skills, time management and adaptability and, flexibility as well as the essential critical skill of Cultural sensitivity.
What challenges do you face daily on your job?
The greatest challenge I encounter is keeping abreast with issues of global health as the challenges are ever emerging. There is always anticipation for future challenges e.g. Coronavirus Pandemic of 2019
There is always a challenge of mitigating the effects of the pandemics and ensuring that the systems are prepared to deal with the dynamism in the global health.
Is Africa ready to face the emerging global health challenges?
Even in developed world, there can never be a point where all challenges have been fully mitigated or tackled. However, there has been progress over the years and we have to keep building on those achievements in order to move to another level.
Africa is ready to face the global health challenges through progressive realization since all the right health systems cannot be realized overnight. Combined efforts and resources should be put in continuously in order to strengthen the health systems for better health outcomes.
What is rewarding and frustrating when working in the health field?
Health can be both rewarding and frustrating. An adequate health service is more of a moving target. It is hard to reach a point where you can say that you have provided adequate health services since there is always room for improvement.
Over the years in Kenya, there has been tremendous progress in dealing with infectious diseases. E.g HIV, TB and Malaria. However, there is still more to be done to control and eliminate them progressively.
In the past decade, non-communicable diseases have emerged strongly posing a challenge e.g Diabetes, HBP, Cancer, etc
Now we have infectious diseases to tackle, control, and eliminate, then non-communicable diseases also to be controlled.
In the recent past owing to globalization’s emergence due to international trade and travel, people are able to move from one part of the world within a short duration. This even further heightens the increase in another group of infectious diseases causing a pandemic. Globalization has become a vehicle for infectious diseases emerging from one part of the world spreading to other parts of the globe and becoming a pandemic.
Global warming is also a challenge as it changes the disease pattern quite a bit. Lots of stresses of modern-day living have made mental health challenges to be on the rise right now.
As experts in Public Health, the challenges have to be tackled by prioritizing address to the challenges. The biggest reward is when the challenges can be mitigated. Similarly, the biggest frustration is dealing with all the challenges owing to limited resources. Hence the need to prioritize. She simply summarizes the rewards and frustrations in that light.
Any recent health issues you have tackled recently, that made you feel fulfilled?
Yes. Several, actually. Starting with the recent Covid Pandemic. There has been tremendous progress in HIV, TB, Malaria, etc as compared to the 90,s hence the rate of mortality has reduced pretty much significantly.
Even with non-communicable diseases, the management has been able to prolong life and people have been able to live longer.
What does it take to be successful in your career?
Being successful entails a combination of many factors, starting with the relevant education and skills. Also having good work ethics, a positive mindset, being focused on achieving goals and making a good impression by maintaining a positive image/outlook. I always ensure that I am smart and presentable since it only takes one chance to make a good impression.
What effect does your career have on your family and lifestyle?
I have managed to work smart towards achieving a healthy work/life balance. During the holidays, I usually try to limit travel as much as I possibly can in order to spend time with my children. I also appreciate having an understanding and supportive husband.
Do you ever get some me-time?
I usually allocate time for myself just doing reflection, reading, and just relaxing. It takes very deliberate effort to have some, “me time!”
What do you enjoy most when alone?
I am a bookworm. Besides reading, I do lots of reflection and reading.
Are there opportunities that allow you to continue learning on your job?
Learning opportunities are there, but it also takes personal initiative. Also, online learning is a great platform that enhances knowledge acquisition.
Looking back, would you have done anything different in your career?
I have always aspired to be a doctor, and I am happy to be one. However, life has also presented opportunities for learning other things besides medicine. I target large-scale issues affecting more people. And I feel super excited and humbled being able to do it at a global level.