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My work is to fight neglected diseases

Sunday October 11 2015

Monique Wasunna is a physician and an infectious diseases and tropical medicine specialist. PHOTO | NATION

Monique Wasunna is a physician and an infectious diseases and tropical medicine specialist. PHOTO | NATION 

ANGELA OKETCH
By ANGELA OKETCH
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Who is Monique Wasunna?

I am a physician and an infectious diseases and tropical medicine specialist. My research interest is primarily focused on clinical trials in visceral leishmaniasis, malaria, and HIV.

I have been a principal investigator in many clinical trials that have attracted funding from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international organisations. I am also a member of the Expert Committee of Clinical Trials of the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.

What does your job entail?

As the Director at DNDi, I lead 22 members of staff with varied integral qualifications. My main responsibilities include providing administrative and scientific leadership for DNDi activities in the region, providing leadership in building and strengthening capacities for clinical trials in neglected diseases in Africa and leading the effort in building and co-ordinating networks of scientists in Africa working on neglected diseases.

What is your day like as a doctor?

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My day usually begins when I wake up at 6 am. I get to the office and will have my oat porridge as I look at the day’s newspapers. After this, the rest is punctuated with meetings and teleconferences with office managers, partners and headquarters in Geneva.

A challenges you encounter at your work place as a woman?

I do not really look at or see myself as a female but as a doctor! I have many senior doctors working with me and we have mutual respect for each other and see each other as colleagues. So there is no much challenge.

What are the Neglected Tropical Diseases?

Neglected diseases are conditions that inflict severe health burdens on the world’s poorest people. In Kenya we have visceral leishmaniasis, chagas disease and African sleeping sickness. They are said to be neglected because, more often, they are overlooked by drugs developers.

The diseases are often ignored because they do not usually cause dramatic outbreaks that kill large numbers of people. Rather, such diseases usually exact their toll over a longer period of time, leading to crippling deformities, severe disabilities and/or relatively slow deaths.

What else do you do besides this?

I am a member of the Kenyatta National Hospital and the University of Nairobi Scientific and Ethics Committee. I am also a member of the Expert Committee of Clinical Trials of the Pharmacy and Poisons Board. When I am not actively co-ordinating the research undertaken by DNDi, these other activities keep me quite busy.

What drives you?

I am driven by the needs of patients… especially those infected with neglected diseases. Every time I don’t do my best, I know a patient may die.

With your busy schedule, do you find time to cook for your family?

Nowadays, I don’t cook as often as I used to when my family was younger. However, I cook once in a while especially when my family is together.

What food do you associate with your family?

We enjoy anything grilled such as lamb, chicken, and spare ribs with rice and traditional vegetables.

How is your family life?

I am happily married to a gorgeous loving husband, Prof Aggrey Wasunna. I have spent the last 34 years by his side and, God willing, we shall have many more years together.

Do you have children?

I have three children who are grown up. Two medical doctors and married. My last born son is in law school. I also have a beautiful grand child.

What do you love about your job?

I love the people I work with. They are driven by passion for neglected patients. They are a good committed team and I can’t succeed without them.

What has brought the most joy in your life?

Knowing God and my adorable family.

What do you do for fun?

I listen to music and dance! In the house with my husband.

Where would you like to go for a holiday?

I am blessed to have travelled all over the world except Australia, New Zealand, and China but I like London because it feels like home and there is a lot to do and see.

Who has had the greatest influence in your life?

My late father, mother and my husband.

What car do you drive?

I could define it as a reliable sports car.

Are you a good mother?

Yes! I believe I am. My children are respectful and work extremely hard.  My husband has always praised me on the way I have brought them up. My husband is a good dad too.

Your aspirations in future?

I have two main aspirations in life. One is to see the growth of research and development (R&D) in Africa under strong African leadership. And the other is to see more collaboration and adoption of innovative methods of funding for R&D globally.

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