Rikka Trangsrud came to Africa in 1991, the same year that PATH established a formal presence in Kenya. For the past nine years, she’s led our Kenya Country Program, where this year we’re celebrating our 20-year anniversary. Rikka’s seen the Kenya team grow from a small staff focused mainly on reproductive health projects to become our largest country program, with work in such varied areas as preventing and treating HIV/AIDS, controlling diarrheal disease, and establishing ecologically sustainable systems to manage health care waste. Rikka took some time recently to reflect on her time in Kenya.
Q. What kind of changes have you seen in health for Kenyans in the last 20 years?
A. It’s gotten better, for the most part. One very important health indicator comes to mind: HIV and AIDS. Kenya has made huge improvements over time in that area.
Q. What’s made the difference?
A. Resources—fairly steady funding for health. Family planning and HIV are good examples of what can happen when you have stable resources and what happens when those resources are no longer available. We made huge progress with contraception in the 1980s. Then funding began to pick up for HIV and AIDS—another area that certainly needed attention—and family planning hasn’t kept up. We’ve begun to fall behind a bit in family planning, so I think we need to refocus there.
Q. How has PATH’s work made an impact in Kenya? Why has the program grown?
A. I think what we’ve been able to do is seize new opportunities as they come up. We watch for gaps and partner with others to fill them. For example, we saw a need for help in nutrition and began to work in partnership with the Infant and Young Child Nutrition project (an initiative funded by the US Agency for International Development and led by PATH). The same is true for our work in tuberculosis. We partner with many other organizations in our work on TB, which is now a major part of our work. So, what we do well is see where the needs are and become a partner with others to fill them.
Q. What do you think you’ll be working on in the future?
A. Right now we’re doing a lot of direct implementation of projects side-by-side with the Ministry of Health to strengthen the health sector. I think we’ll be working more like this—very closely with groups in Kenya. And I think the work we’ll do will be much more geared toward introducing new technologies and scaling them up.
Q. What do you like best about your job?
There are two kinds of experiences I just love. I love seeing the work directly, whether it’s visiting health facilities, people’s homes, or communities. It’s a pleasure to observe the commitment and generosity of the people we work with. And I love being with the team here. We’ll be having some kind of internal discussion about a program, and sometimes I’m just blown away by the brain power and the commitment of the team itself. That always just completely inspires me.
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