Photo Credit: USAID/William Herkewitz
USAID has a new Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Division Chief —Lisa Godwin. We recently sat down with Lisa to ask her about her experience and passion for public health.
Q: How did you get started in global health and development?
A: I am from Alabama. Growing up, I always had a sense that there was more to see and do. I had an internal calling to get outside of Alabama and the United States. So, I joined the Peace Corps after college. Knowing that I was planning to be a nurse, I worked as a health educator. I lived in a small village in Ghana where, for the first time, I was exposed to how people outside of the United States were living. It was such an incredible awakening. From that moment on, I knew my life would be focused on working with underserved populations in low resource settings.
Q: After the Peace Corps, you completed nursing school and worked in the U.S. and abroad. Tell us about that time.
A: I went to nursing school to become a family nurse practitioner. Afterwards, I knew that I needed stateside experience to give me a foundation for what I was planning to do in the future. My first job was in a male correctional facility, doing intake physicals for the entire state of Massachusetts. Then I worked in Forks, Washington, in a rural health clinic. It is a town of 3,500 people, and I got to meet and take care of almost all of them. Next, I worked in a free clinic in Northern Virginia where I cared for a largely immigrant population, and I spoke Spanish with my patients everyday. Working with Doctors Without Borders was a dream of mine for a long time. I went on two missions with the organization. First to Zimbabwe, where I worked with a large HIV program and led health education. As a sexual assault nurse examiner, I was able to provide sexual violence education to nurses in hospital settings. For my second mission with Doctors Without Borders, I went to Northern Uganda to run the health center in an internally displaced persons camp.
Q: Next you worked with USAID in overseas Missions in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. What is it like working for USAID in the field?
A: Working at USAID —while it is very different from what I was doing beforehand— is very fulfilling. If I do my job correctly, I can be a part of a team that helps hundreds of thousands of people. In the field, you really get to interact with the people we are trying to empower as well. Our work does not exist in a vacuum, though. Partnership is a critical piece. I really value the relationship I have had with governments, donors, and partners, especially as each has a vital role helping coordinate the work. If we did not work together, there would be duplication of efforts and wasted resources.
Q: You mentioned the importance of coordination. Can you share an example of successful coordination in-country?
A: In Rwanda, we tackled the challenge of coordination around nutrition. The government, our USAID mission, and later our implementing partners, were able to use a multi-sectoral approach. A government nutrition point person pulled in all of the relevant ministries, like agriculture, trade, infrastructure, education, and health, of course. And ultimately all 30 districts in Rwanda each brought together these many stakeholders to coordinate nutrition interventions on the ground. When I departed, we were seeing Rwandans having better health and nutrition outcomes due to the great coordination that was happening from central level all the way down to the district and village level.
Q: Tell us about your interest in ending diseases closely linked to poverty, like NTDs. How will achieving this help countries on the Journey to Self Reliance?
A: We have realized during our long history as USAID that everything is connected and that poverty is a base problem. If people were not poor, they would have better access to nutritious food to eat, they would have access to adequate shelter, they would have access to health care and medicine, and access to education to learn and become a productive member of society. As we work with countries to address poverty, we know that when people are healthy, including being free of NTDs, they are better able to reach their full potential and enter the workforce. That is why we work with countries to help them achieve NTD control and elimination goals and ultimately move further along what we call the Journey to Self Reliance. This is a complex process, and it requires working across health and development systems. But it is critically important work. Ultimately, I am passionate about improving health and ending NTDs because health is so central to our success as humanity.