Improving the health of vulnerable groups

Pauline Hakutangwi had never heard of Maastricht, let alone Maastricht University. Born in Zimbabwe but resident in the UK since the age of 10, she nevertheless headed for the South Limburg city in 2013 to pursue her master’s in Global Health. “It turned out to be ideal. The programme has given me a solid foundation to achieve my goal: improving the health of vulnerable groups of people.”

Graziella Runchina

She now works at the consultancy firm A&R Edelman in London, dealing with policy issues surrounding access to healthcare worldwide. With such a broad remit, no one day is ‘just another day at the office’. “That’s what appeals to me so much about my work here. Still, managing so many new things did mean I initially had to step way outside my comfort zone. One of my duties early on was to develop and organise workshops on political health issues, which meant familiarising myself with European health policy in very little time.” She monitors political developments in health policy and market access, stays abreast of trends in the field and occasionally travels abroad for work, focusing on countries in sub-Saharan Africa. “There are still lots of vulnerable people in many places around the world who have difficulty gaining access to health services.”

From doctor to scientist

Hakutangwi was born in Harare, Zimbabwe. Due to political instability in the country, the family moved to the UK in 2001. From a young age Hakutangwi had a profound interest in all things health. As a young girl she aspired to become a gynaecologist, but in her teens she decided she wanted to be a scientist rather than a doctor. “After high school I went to study biomedical sciences at the University of Hull.” During the final year of her studies she started looking for a master’s programme in the field of public health. Meanwhile, she began working as a specialist clinical coordinator at the Genitourinary Medicine Clinic, which only fanned the flames of her ambition to pursue a career in public health. “I felt a strong urge to focus on the sexual health of women in the UK who have to contend with diseases like HIV and hepatitis.” This led her to attend several training sessions of the New Futures Project in Leicester, which supports young people and adults who are exploited or risk exploitation in the sex industry.

International dimensions

“Actually I was happy with how my life was going. I was focused on public health in the UK. I was planning on staying there to work and to seek out a suitable master’s programme to complete my studies.” In 2014, Hakutangwi ended up in Maastricht more or less by accident. “It was my eldest sister who egged me on. She knew people who had studied in Maastricht and raved about it. She sent me all this information she’d collected about the Global Health programme. She figured it was right up my alley – and I have to say, she was right.” What immediately appealed to Hakutangwi was the emphasis in the curriculum on the international dimensions of health and disease and on the need for cross-border cooperation to improve health and access to healthcare worldwide. 

Maternity care

“The master’s in Maastricht really improved my ability to critically appraise health policy. I learnt to write reports, make research proposals and understand regional, national and global health policy. My knowledge and appreciation of how policy shapes the global health landscape increased dramatically that year.”

For her master’s thesis Hakutangwi conducted qualitative field research in Tanzania, focusing on the ‘road map’ to reduce mother and child mortality implemented by the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. Working in a multicultural and international team, she examined whether the implementation of the government measures had actually reduced mother and child mortality rates. To gather data she spent three months in the village of Mdawi, near Mount Kilimanjaro, where she interviewed healthcare professionals, policymakers and mothers from the village. “My conclusion was that the government programme had improved the health status of mothers and children to some extent. But still, the mortality of women during or soon after birth remains a concern. Eliminating all barriers that affect access to healthcare for pregnant women is more difficult than you might expect.”

Pauline Hakutangwi (1989) studied biomedical sciences at the University of Hull in the UK. She was part of the 2014 cohort of the Master in Global Health at Maastricht University. She now works for A&R Edelman, a renowned consultancy firm in London that focuses on health policy and market access. She joined the firm as a researcher and became a junior analyst in the field of health policy in October 2016.

Also read