Christine, a 2018 Heroine of Health, is tirelessly fighting for the rights of patients, communities, and frontline staff
At this year’s World Health Assembly, GE Healthcare and Women in Global Health, a movement that strives for greater gender equality in global health leadership, are joining forces to honor and celebrate women in global health. As a 2018 Heroine of Health , Christine Mataza from Kenya is being honored this year for fighting for the rights of patients, communities, and frontline staff. We sat down with Christine to learn more about her work in Kenya and why she believes all families deserve access to quality healthcare.
Christine, tell us more about the work that you do in Kenya.
For 15 years, I have been the nurse in charge for Kilifi sub-county, Kenya where I have coordinated primary health facilities, making sure that those who cannot afford access to private care still get quality care. We offer services to community members, ranging from basic needs such as ensuring that all rural health facilities in the county have a nurse to take care of the health needs of the community surrounding that facility to something far more complex like trying to ensure that those staff remain positive and able to do their job even in very difficult circumstances.
What inspired you to get involved?
I strongly felt that we needed better healthcare in my community. Growing up, our financial situation was very unstable and I saw that those of us who are underprivileged struggled, and still struggle, to get quality healthcare. The public health system is very important because while we have many small private clinics in our communities, they can be very expensive. This inspired me to take up nursing in the public sector; I wanted to ensure that underprivileged families could have quality care. I have never looked back.
Can you share a moment that solidified why you got into this line of work?
While it’s very hard to share just one story, there’s one moment that stands out in my mind because it really made me understand how important my work is. Late in the afternoon one day, a woman arrived who was 28 weeks pregnant and asked to be seen. The older nurses told her she should go home and come back the next day but I could see she was really depressed, tired, and in need of support. So, I talked to her and examined her to the best of my ability. I found out she’d walked 10km to get to us and when I examined her, I saw that her blood pressure was very high. Eventually she was admitted and her baby’s life probably saved.
This inspired me to gently talk to my older colleagues to try to convince them that we can do things differently; we can offer a friendly service and we can try to work together and help each other as nurses rather than just work in our own stations. Many people were being turned away when they needed care. After some time, I managed to convince them to change the way we work, and we really began to function as a team. It gives me the greatest joy to see women coming to us and receiving quality care.
What’s the greatest piece of advice someone in global health has ever given you?
When we see a patient, we should look at what’s behind them, in their homes, and their health systems, that might have contributed to them being patients. I think of this piece of advice daily.
Christine is one of nine women being recognized at this year’s World Health Assembly as part of the Heroines of Health honors. Learn more about this year’s Heroines of Health here.