October 11, 2011

Q&A: US Global Health Work in Kenya with Kemy Monahan

Communications Associate

Katherine E. “Kemy” Monahan, a career foreign service officer steeped in development issues and an economist and lawyer by training, was appointed as deputy executive director of the Global Health Initiative (GHI) in July. She had been the Brussels-based Counselor for International Development and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Representative to the European Union. She took up her new post in late September and just three weeks into her job traveled to Kenya. On Tuesday, after seeing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research site in the Kibera slum, she talked to GHTC’s Breakthroughs blog on site about her impressions of the US global health work in Kenya, the importance of research, and the critical need now to make the case to Congress for investing in global health.

Katherine E. “Kemy” Monahan, a career foreign service officer Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/PATH

Q: What was most memorable about your visit to Kibera?

A: There is such a contrast. You see this very poor slum that is far from an ideal environment and then you see very healthy mothers and children inside their homes. That’s a real tribute to the work that CDC and Carolina for Kibera are doing here. When people do get sick, they can go to a clinic here, thanks to these organizations.

I met a grandmother who was part of a CDC study. The CDC worker found out that the child had a very high fever, and the grandmother didn’t know about it. They took him to the clinic, gave him medicine, and the grandmother said he was better immediately. She was very happy.

Q: What is the benefit of the CDC research in Kibera?

A: The grandmother said it well. We asked her what the project was about. She said that the CDC was trying to find more out about the diseases that are most dangerous, that they would tell the Ministry of Health their results, and that would be used to help the neighborhood and the whole country. She was exactly right. CDC really has educated people well about the study.

Q: Where does research fit into the priorities of the Global Health Initiative (GHI)?

A: GHI is very focused on efficiencies, on all the agencies working well together, and working with other stakeholders such as the host government, other donors, and NGOs. If I think of the one thing that has been most important in cost savings and advancements in global health, it would be research and development (R&D). Research and development can create whole new paradigms. It can cut costs dramatically with one new vaccine, or one new drug, or one new test. R&D is expensive on the front end but very cost effective once you start implementing it. It’s so important that we remember this is a long-term investment. There are examples all over PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), with the pneumococcal vaccine, and the many new innovations now being tested, such as microbicides research.

Q: Like many programs in the US federal budget, global health funds are under threat. A House bill would cut $700 million from the administration’s request. How do you make the case for global health in these times?

A: There are so many reasons why GHI is good for Americans. It’s not just a moral imperative. It’s not just a reflection of American values—although it is both of those. It’s also about national security, making sure we know how to fight epidemics, helping keep other countries strong. It’s really value for our money. It’s a small percentage of the budget that really is making a difference.

Q: If $700 million is cut, what is lost?

A: We would not be able to do so many of the things that Americans support. We may not be able to do all the work in preventing malaria, for instance, or we may have to cut back on pre-natal care that is so vital for the health of pregnant women. The choices would be very hard.

The United States takes its commitments very seriously. The world respects us for meeting our commitments. America’s word is a bond, something to be proud of. We don’t want to lose that pride when it comes to meeting our commitments in global health, especially when they are so meaningful to people around the world.

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