What you need to know:
Academia. Dr Elizabeth Ekirapa Kiracho recently rose through the ranks to associate professor at the College of Health Sciences, Makerere University. brings excerpts of the interview.
Dr Elizabeth Ekirapa Kiracho describes herself as a proud Ugandan, health economist at the School of Public Health Makerere University. She is also, a Christian, wife, mother of four and a career woman. At the school of public health, Dr Kiracho is the fourth female associate professor. She says her father is her role model because he is a devout Christian, family man who believes in hard work, honesty, and loves helping others. The academic talks about her education journey and aspirations.
Briefly let us in on your journey after your Bachelor’s degree.
I completed a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in 1996. After an internship at Mulago Hospital, I went to work at Kiwako Hospital, a rural regional hos-pital in Luweero District. There, I served for four years and those were my best years.
When I returned to Kampala in 2000, I got married then pursued my first Master’s degree at the School of Public Health, Makerere University, where I was as a re-search fellow. I completed in 2003 and two years later, I went for my second Master’s in Public Health specialis-ing in Health Economics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Then, in 2006 I returned and got placement as assistant lecturer at the School of Public Health. Meanwhile, I longed for more knowledge, and thus I started on my doctorate in health systems research at Trinity College Dublin in 2008. There, I focused on developing financial and non-financial incentives for increasing access to maternal health services.
In July this year, I was appointed associate professor.
Could your life revolve around only teaching?
Apart from lecturing, I do research because the univer-sity requires us to engage in three aspects such as teach-ing, community service and research.
I have been involved in doing research, particularly within the country. My research has been in maternal health, health systems, health financing and economic evaluation.
We understand you serve at Amref, tell us more about that role.
In 2019, Amref needed an expert in public and mater-nal health, ( my passion), so I joined as a board member.
They needed someone to head their programmes committee because their incumbent was about to retire. My credentials fitted the position perfectly.
When Prof George Kirya retired, I succeeded him as chairperson of the programmes committee and, then the advisory council, where I provide leadership. The council ensures programmes are implemented effectively and efficiently to meet the needs of the community. It also ensures money is spent well, risks are managed appropriately and the staff are treated well. I also chair the International Programmes Committee for Amref Health in Africa.
What tough decisions have you had to make to enable your career growth?
When I went for my second Master’s, I was newly married. Not just that, but I had a one-year-and-three months old son plus a five-months pregnancy. I had to go and study. Much as I knew my education would pay off, the decision was very tough.
Also, when I got an opportunity to do my doctorate at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, I had agreed with my husband to travel with our family. However, I got my visa before the rest and I left. After a month, we were told the family would not get their visas. I was separated from my family. I had three young children and leaving them to their father did not feel as good. On the other hand, it was a hybrid programme that allowed me in between to travel back home. Then, the work schedule has taught me self-sacrifice. Sometimes I have to work late and travel. So, I am not as available as I would want to be for my family and social functions.
What is your take on the delicate balance career and family life?
It is important to consider the personality of your marraige partner. For example, the gentleman I married is considerate of my needs and growth. When we had to make decisions regarding my studies that involved a lot of travel, he accepted that these were necessary evils. He considered the long term fulfilment—it was good for me. Even then, he often wished to see me advance and that propelled me to my career pursuits.
As for that part of balancing, I have tried to keep connected with my family, especially my husband. For in-stance, when I was out of the country, we ensured consistent communication to avoid feeling distant. When-ever I returned, I ensured that I spent as much time as possible with my family.
My husband and I have a give-and-take relationship. For example, if he has to complete a report and leave work late, I pick up the children from school and vice versa.
Even then, our children allow me time and space to do my work, but I also make time to do the things that are important to them. That ranges from playing hide and seek with my 10-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter to sitting down to discuss future career plans and university options with my two older adolescent daughters.
What has propelled you to associate professorship?
It is a combination of factors which include my desire and persistence to rise in the field. The hard work to meet the prerequisites to the position. I had to have a doctorate, eight years of teaching experience, four publications, two as the first author since the last promotion, and I ought to have supervised at least three graduate students to graduation, plus community service.
I also believe it is through God’s favour too and it had been my prayer request for a long time. I applied three years ago and we (plus friends) have henceforth been praying for the appointment to come through. There are many people at Makerere University who qualify for such positions, but the wage cylinder cannot let allow many to be promoted. (Wage cylinder refers to a maxi-mum amount of money the university can spend on wages).
I cannot forget the support from the School of Public Health management and the human resource department.
Social support came in handy with my husband and family ensuring a homely environment.
Any notable work you are proud of?
I have been involved in maternal health research that has helped to improve delivery access for women. I believe no woman should lose her life in the labour ward.
I enjoy doing research that guides the Ministry of Health when they are making decisions on how to make our services more accessible. I have also done consultancy work that has guided the ministry in deciding the benefits that it should provide to its citizens.
My research also supports them in making decisions related to the financing mechanisms that we use and the benefit packages that we implement.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I should be a professor taking up higher leadership roles at my workplace.
I would like to make a difference in the area of health systems nationally and internationally, plus change the discourse on a number of things in the developing world.
Your advice to career women is…?
Women ought to learn how to plan their lives because failing to plan is planning to fail. Think about where you want to work, what career path you want to pursue, further studies to undertake against a timeline.
When you are not at work what do you do?
I enjoy spending time with friends and family. I like watching movies too.
I also serve in several ministries at Watoto Church; the health sphere and the Marrieds’ Ministry.
What hurdles do women face on their way up?
On my part, challenges came when I tried the fragile act of balancing career and family life. I had the back up of my family, but imagine a woman who does not have such a supportive family that can agree to one being away for a long time? What about if they do not have a family that can help with taking care of the children while you are away? This ties women down since they are looked at as homemakers.
Sometimes women prioritise their family life, and do not put in time into other areas they need to focus on in order to progress.
Others lack self-drive and belief.
Have you won any awards?
Yes, I have won two awards for best oral presentation at the Annual Scientific Conference Bangladesh in 2009 and another at the first International Symposium on Community Health Workers in 2017 in Uganda.
I also got a PhD award in which I was an only woman among three students sponsored from Africa by the Irish Government under a health systems grant.