- 1. Can you tell us about your background and how this led you to global health?
Growing up in the rural countryside of Kenya in the early 80s was a critically formative period in my life. I was born to a mother who was barely out of high school, and I lived with my grandmother till I was six or seven years old. There were about 10 of us, and whilst they were technically my uncles and aunts, I knew them as siblings as we were not far apart in age. We were not materially well off, but we were a close-knit family, and this taught me the values of fairness and collaboration, as well as instilled in me a strong work ethic. My grandmother was the backbone of our family, working tirelessly to provide for us and expecting the same from us. Our chores came first. Breakfast was tea (sometimes with leftovers from the previous night), and we skipped lunch because we were in the fields ploughing, grazing the cattle, or out fetching water or firewood. I never outgrew this, and I gladly skip breakfast and lunch now.
“Very early on, I came to understand that access to health care was not guaranteed and that a lack of money and/or knowledge can often mean limited care or support.”
This period was also when I was first exposed to the challenges and limitations of the health system. Due to a lack of information and support, I missed out on key childhood immunisations, which led to health challenges later in life. Very early on, I came to understand that access to health care was not guaranteed and that a lack of money and/or knowledge can often mean limited care or support. I saw first-hand how getting to the health facility was a challenge as it meant abandoning chores and responsibilities, travelling a long distance, and waiting a long time to be seen. It often felt like a massive mission, even as a child or maybe more so as a child.
These experiences have driven my passion for fairness and equity. I did not consciously seek out global health but the stirrings from my childhood sat with me as I got older, evolving into a pursuit for social justice. This is how I ended up in international development and in global health. I stubbornly believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to live a healthy life, regardless of their background or financial situation, and I am committed to using all my talents, networks, and energy to contribute to this.
I am a trained print journalist and studied social communications as an undergraduate and later post graduate in global diplomacy at SOAS. I have had a fantastic career over the last 16 years, working in different countries and continents and across multiple disciplines of communication and advocacy, programmes, partnerships, and resource mobilisation.
- 2. What attracted you to the work Primary Care International does?
Fundamentally, it is the shared commitment to the principle that everyone, regardless of their background or financial situation, deserves access to quality health care and to be treated with dignity and respect when seeking care. I was drawn to PCI’s focus on primary healthcare, which is the foundation of a strong healthcare system.
“PCI imagines a world where healthcare knowledge, innovation and best practices are shared globally, bridging the gap between so-called “low resource” and high-income settings. Where the former can teach the latter.”
Our learning programmes are adaptive and led by practising clinicians for practising clinicians, who understand the challenges and limitations of working with limited resources and a changing environment. This approach brings together evidenced best practice and practical, relevant, lived experience. Allowing both of these variables to influence one another.
I was attracted by PCI’s bold and agile approach to international development which is urgently needed in the sector right now. An organisation that is curious and embraces learning as a success metric. For example, PCI imagines a world where healthcare knowledge, innovation and best practices are shared globally, bridging the gap between so-called “low resource” and high-income settings. Where the former can teach the latter.
PCI values a collaborative approach, where the voices and insights of healthcare providers from diverse regions inform and enrich each other. We believe that the future of primary care is driven by innovation that results from cross-collaboration and mutual learning between healthcare providers around the world. Solutions and ideas come from everywhere and we must be open to this and set out mechanisms to capture and share these. This is a future where everyone benefits, and where there are no perpetual givers and receivers of knowledge, innovation, or solutions. As an international development practitioner and a proponent of the ongoing discussion about shifting power in the sector, and doing things differently, this is one practical way of going about it.
The social enterprise model is also compelling, as a sustainable way of resourcing social impact. It provides opportunities for the organisation to be extremely responsive to emerging needs and reduces the overreliance on external funding mechanisms. It drives innovation and establishes ways of addressing social problems through market-based solutions.
- 3. It’s been 30 days now since you joined PCI as CEO. What have been your key observations during your first 30 days?
Time goes fast when you are learning.
Firstly, we have an amazingly dedicated and diverse team, a network of Clinical Associates, an Advisory Council, and a diverse Board of Directors. This is critical because it provides the environment in which the ideas flourish.
Secondly, PCI’s credibility. We have a unique experience of building local capacity and skills, creating demonstration models and catalysing action and investment by other national and international agencies to pursue best practices in primary care. The long list of established development partners and agencies is a testament to our work’s distinct quality and relationships. PCI is fast becoming a thought leader and go-to innovation partner for the transformation of primary healthcare for the most vulnerable.
Thirdly, the breadth and impact of our work. We have supported programmes in over 40 countries across Africa, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and built capabilities of approximately 7,000 healthcare professionals, acting as a catalyst across the wider health ecosystem, influencing medicines procurement and clinic management. I am mindful that we do not emphasise these numbers or see them as the only way to measure our impact. It is important that our impact is defined and articulated by our communities and partners.
Fourthly, our digital transformation, and use of technology in health system strengthening. Our PCI Academy provides world-class blended learning for primary healthcare workers. It increases the number of learners we can reach and allows us to get over some of the logistical obstacles that make it difficult for learners to access the most up-to-date information. It offers pragmatic, evidence-based, outcome-focused content. developed and delivered by primary care clinicians for primary care clinicians. As technology changes, we are keen to leverage it to drive access and equity in learning.
- 4. Can you share your thoughts on the organisation’s current programs and initiatives?
In the Caribbean, we are implementing various projects including supporting efforts to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by developing a new online course to equip community health workers to diagnose and manage NCDs as part of multi-disciplinary primary care teams. In addition to the NCD course, we are also implementing a primary prevention/community wellness programme, which includes the development of IEC materials on cancer and diabetes screening. I believe that addressing skill gaps is crucial to high-quality patient care and ensuring that the right healthcare worker with the right skills in the right place. Some other projects that we have implemented in the region include the delivery of training on best use of WHO’s NCD Emergency Kits and the adaptation of the HEARTS hypertension protocol as a common framework for heart disease risk reduction.
Aside from responding to crisis situations, especially those involving populations displaced by natural disasters, we are also active in refugee contexts. In the Middle East, we are developing a comprehensive primary, secondary, and tertiary care package. We have also provided training to healthcare professionals in humanitarian settings on the management of NCDs and peer-reviewed and contextualised IEC materials. Conflicts and instability often disrupt health systems, and through our initiatives, we are supporting the improvement of health results across the globe.
Our work also extends to parts of Africa where we have developed standard treatment guidelines for hospitals and clinics. Similarly, this year we will be conducting NCD trainings in the region as well as in MENA and Asia/Pacific. Through these programmes, our efforts to strengthen primary care continues and we are reaching an increasing number of healthcare workers globally.
- 5. You have a strong focus on partnerships, can you explain why partnerships play a crucial role in PCI’s work?
In Kenya we say, ‘Kidole kimoja hakivuji chawa’ (one finger cannot squash a headlouse). The world’s existing and emerging challenges require a collective effort. No single entity can do it all alone. This is why partnerships are critical. They provide opportunities to pool resources and leverage expertise to innovate and scale impact. The late Dr Paul Farmer said it perfectly, “with rare exceptions, all our most important achievements on this planet will come from working with others.”
PCI continues to collaborate with a diverse set of partners, including large public health organisations, international NGOs, and smaller agencies, enabling us to trial and lead the way in new and innovative primary care practices globally. I hope to add value in this area from my experience building and growing partnerships.
- 6. Who is Steve outside of PCI and global health?
I am a husband and a father of two young girls. I love running, which is something I found later in life. I am a hobbyist photographer. I love music – it can completely change my mood. I am a tech enthusiast and at the moment interested and excited by what is happening with AI.