Mwiche Siame grew up in the small town of Kitwe, Zambia. As a Global Health Corps fellow, Mwiche worked at the Ministry of Health Zambia as a Senior Research Associate. She stayed at the Ministry of Health and is currently working as a Strategic Information Officer in the Ministry’s Department of Policy and Planning. Her work involves ensuring that health workers obtain training in data quality and use of data/health information for decision making.
Previously, Mwiche completed her Bachelor of Science degree in biology at the University of Zambia, becoming actively involved in the AB (abstain, be faithful) club, which focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention. In this club, she and other college students travelled to primary and secondary schools to give lectures and mentor students about the risks of HIV/AIDS.
She worked for the Macha Research Trust, which is a nonprofit organization with the mission of improving healthcare through research. In 2011, she continued her education at the graduate level, obtaining a degree in epidemiology with her thesis research focusing on prevention and treatment of risk factors of malaria in pregnant women.
Why did you decide to work in the health sector even though you didn’t study medicine or train to be a health professional?
I studied biological sciences and could have worked in another sector but I strongly felt that I could still make a difference in global health. Initially, I worked in a lab for infectious diseases, focusing on malaria. After about five years, I decided to go back to school and study public health.
When I went back to doing lab work I struggled to find my place. I decided to become a Global Health Corps fellow and then it became very clear that I needed to get back to my first love, which is working in HIV from a public health angle.
In college you worked on HIV prevention. How did you mobilise other students to get involved and take action?
I was a passionate student leader and an advocate of HIV prevention among my fellow college students and those in secondary. My drive to work in health came from a place of having lost close family and friends to HIV.
I was able to share personal experiences with others on how HIV impacts young people and also on reproductive health, specifically among young women.
And you were placed at the Ministry of Health in Lusaka as a Global Health Corps fellow. Did you expect to stay there beyond your fellowship year?
Absolutely not! I had no idea what my next career would be three months before the fellowship ended. The opportunity was unforeseen but I was in the right place at the right time and I took it.
What has surprised you about working for the Ministry of Health?
I initially did not have a clear understanding of why the system was so bureaucratic, and now that I have worked there I know better and appreciate the need to have such a structured system.
When people think of health, we often think of medicine and tools rather than data. Why does data collection and analysis matter for health outcomes?
I often have to explain my relevance at the Ministry of Health as I am neither a doctor nor a nurse, especially to my grandmother! I work in the Department of Policy and Planning and work primarily on quality improvement of health services through data use.
Data collection and analysis matters as it is the backbone for measuring performance and is the basis for decision making and policy formulation in health. Without data, there is no evidence! And without evidence, there is no strong justification to have interventions that improve health outcomes.
People often think that leaders are the ones who are out on the front lines protesting and leading rallies but we know that’s only one type of leadership. What’s your own personal leadership style?
My leadership approach is strategic and participative. It entails encouraging each member of the team to maximise their strengths and be active in making a change.
I feel that influence and leadership is much more than having a “position” – it’s more about deliberate efforts to pool the knowledge and experience of all players. A multi-sectoral approach is critical.
Can you tell us about a mentor who really impacted you?
My grandmother! She did not have a college education, was married at 15 years old, and has had many health challenges, but she still remains a leader in her own right against all odds. She has taught me a lot about life and given me career advice based on following my heart, being true to myself, and challenging myself to do and be better.
Her hard work and advocacy for women’s empowerment has been a great source of inspiration to me.
What’s your favourite way to relax and renew your energy when the fight for health equity gets tough?
I love music – singing and listening to music relaxes me. I am fortunate to have a strong support system of friends and family to talk to and hang out with, and this helps a lot. Also, I do take some time to meditate and pray too, and that keeps me grounded and present.
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