Alumna Spotlight: Jackie Ndirangu ’10 Continues to Advance Women’s Health efforts

September 05, 2017

Originally from Kenya, Jackie Ndirangu developed a passion for women’s health as a child, when she began working in her mother’s clinic in Nairobi at age 10. One of the first students to complete the Master of Science in Global Health (MSc-GH) at Duke, Ndirangu has not slowed down since her graduation in 2010.

Ndirangu came to the United States in 2000 to attend the University of Maryland, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. At that time, she began to dream of earning a master’s degree and conducting professional research. Ndirangu began her career in research as a microbiologist at the Qiagen Bioscience Corporation in Maryland, where she tested cervical cancer samples for clinical evaluation.

This experience further solidified her passion for working in public health, Ndirangu says, but her extroverted nature forced her out of the laboratory and into the community, where she could still help to improve women’s health through coordinating an extensive cervical cancer prevention program.

In 2007, Ndirangu traveled to Haiti with her employer, Family Health Ministries (FHM)—DGHI’s primary partner in Haiti—to conduct research on human papilloma virus (HPV). Following that trip, she worked with FHM for more than a year; during that time, her team screened more than 10,000 women for HPV. The high percentage of those women who tested positive—almost one in five—and the fact that many had already developed cervical cancer, revealed to Ndirangu the true necessity of providing education to women about their health.

It was this desire that brought Ndirangu to Durham, North Carolina. “I applied to DGHI because I yearned to learn more about global health and how I could augment my passion for disease prevention particularly among women,” Ndirangu says. “DGHI was the perfect fit.” Ndirangu brought her experiences from Haiti to DGHI, where she completed her thesis on high-risk HPV genotypes.

Ndirangu worked under the mentorship of Chris Woods, professor of medicine and global health, during her time at DGHI and her thesis was mentored by David Walmer, associate professor of global health and co-founder of FHM. She still keeps in touch with her classmates from DGHI’s MSc-GH inaugural class as they carry on their wonderful work across the globe.

Currently, she’s working as a research public health analyst at RTI International, where she began after graduation and has continued to work for the past six years. Ndirangu is also a project director for an NIH-funded implementation science research study in Cape Town, South Africa.  

The project aims to implement an evidence-based intervention for at-risk women in public health settings—primarily HIV clinics and substance treatment centers—and increase the uptake and adherence to antiretroviral therapy among substance-using women, as well as reduce their substance use.

“My work with women who use substances and others who conduct sex work in South Africa has opened my eyes to understanding that in order to improve the health of women, we must look into the multi-faceted and interactive effects of personal and environmental determinants of health on the individual, interpersonal, community, structural and policy/enabling environments levels of that community,” Ndirangu says.

Ndirangu says that her experience in the Duke MSc-GH program was a stepping stone to advancing much of what she has been able to accomplish in her career. Though she had previously managed a public health program in Haiti, Ndirangu says her training at DGHI enabled her to refine her research skills and gain the ability to make more informed and critical decisions which impact the women her team works with every day.

“I’m now able to engage with district and national-level stakeholders in matters pertaining to the study with much more confidence,” Ndirangu says. “The DGHI program taught me sound research methods and the understanding that, in order to combat health disparities, a functional intersection of many components from the grassroots level to the national government is necessary.”

Still, Ndirangu acknowledges that implementing an intervention that has worked in a structured research environment into a real-world setting is not easy. “I must admit,” she says, “this has been challenging, but it is so exciting to believe in the possibilities that by working through the barriers and adopting the lessons learned from the community and from this research, we can have a robust intervention that will help those who need help the most.”

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Jackie with Project Team in Cape Town
Jackie Ndirangu (in yellow shirt) with project staff in Cape Town, South Africa. They're implementing an intervention in public health clinic and substance treatment centers for HIV-positive women who use substances.

The DGHI program taught me sound research methods and the understanding that, in order to combat health disparities, a functional intersection of many components from the grassroots level to the national government is necessary.

Jackie Ndirangu, MSc-GH '10

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