Grace Mwangi (far left) pictured with several programme stakeholders after a workshop.
Credit: Peek Vision
My career began with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry. After working in the pharmaceutical industry for a while, I realised that my heart wasn’t really in it. I knew that I wanted to get into public health and be involved in programmes that directly impacted people and their health.
So I enrolled for a Masters degree in Health Systems Management which opened up opportunities for me to start working in the public health sector. I worked in different capacities supporting eye health projects across East Africa. This culminated in my appointment as a Regional Programme Coordinator for an eye health NGO, overseeing several eye health programmes in 14 countries across Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. I then did a second Masters degree in Public Health, specialising in Community Eye Health, with my thesis looking at postoperative trichiasis (a painful problem where people’s eyelashes start to grow inwards) in Africa. Soon after graduating in the spring of 2019, I joined Peek Vision.
As a Programme Management Lead at Peek, I currently support our programmes in Zimbabwe as well as in other countries, made up of two school programmes and three community programmes. My role involves providing day-to-day support to the programme teams on the ground and helping them through the entire Peek programme delivery process. I also help in building and maintaining relationships, working closely with all the stakeholders involved at every stage. Most important, I support programme teams in evidence gathering and review, where data generated from the programme informs how to make continuous improvements.
One of the things that I have found particularly rewarding with the Zimbabwe programme is how resilient the team has been in the face of challenges. Most of these challenges are beyond their control, but seeing how determined they are has made me very proud. Working in the rural Mashonaland West Province, where a community eye health programme is using Peek, the teams have had to persevere with the lack of accommodation, food and no running water during some of the outreaches, in an effort to reach the unreached. However, despite these and other challenges, they ended up screening over 6000 people.
A recent highlight came at a stakeholders meeting in Zimbabwe, where we were presenting the data that we had gathered during the first iteration of the school eye health programme. The data showed how many children had been missed out and meant the stakeholders could see that a lot of people were still being left behind. Even without much discussion, they knew something had to be done. Knowing that the data that we were generating had a real impact, gave me a lot of satisfaction. Unlike other programmes, with Peek technology, we are able to identify how many children were screened, but we can also grasp how many were not screened, or were lost in the process. This helps eye health programmes determine what to do to reach those that are being left behind.
Working at Peek, I learn something new every day. Crucially, I have learned the importance of involving stakeholders at every step of the process. You can have a very successful programme but if there is no buy-in from the people who you want to own it, then at the end of the day it will not be sustainable. Also, I have really learned a lot about how we can use an innovation to address challenges like blindness and visual impairment, especially in the hard-to-reach areas, by strengthening the existing health systems. This goes to show that we can use technology to design solutions to these problems and ensure that we are doing our part in fighting avoidable blindness, not only in Africa, but beyond.
What drives me every day is the opportunity to make an impact out there and to see people’s lives change because of a simple surgery or intervention – to bring sight to someone that never knew they could see again. I couldn’t be more happy and motivated, because I know that every single thing that we do at Peek is making a direct impact on someone’s life. With that I feel like I am fulfilling a purpose. This is more than a job to me – it gives me a lot of satisfaction that we as a team; partners on the ground, donors, stakeholders and everyone at Peek, are contributing to this mission together.
About the author: Grace is an experienced Public Health professional with over six year’s experience in designing, implementing and managing eye health projects across sub-Saharan Africa. She has worked closely with governments, local and international NGOs, private sector players and various multi-national donor agencies including USAID, European Commission and DFID among others, on projects geared towards eliminating avoidable blindness.