Providing the "full package" in Haiti: an interview with Elizabeth Campa

August 18, 2016

Elizabeth Campa is the Senior Health and Policy Advisor for Zamni Lasante (PIH's sister organization in Haiti) Development Team.


What is your current position?

As senior health advisor to the leadership of Zanmi Lasante (ZL) in Haiti, I work on a little bit of everything. I work on donor relations, particularly with the US government—supporting strategies for the next five years for USAID in Haiti. I’m working with the UN on addressing the cholera outbreak in Haiti. PIH does a lot of work with vaccines. We did one of the first vaccine trials in the years after the cholera onset in 2010. We were very successful. We’re looking to continue that. I work on cholera, water and sanitation, gender based violence, cervical cancer, agriculture and mental health. We’re really looking at providing the full package, and I’m proud to say that PIH does a really good job of trying to provide the full package. I work on the education section as well—whatever it takes. That’s what we do, whatever it takes. 

Can you tell us about your career path?

I did my undergrad degree in fine arts in Chicago. Then I served in the US Peace Corps in Morocco from 2000-2002. I was in Peace Corps during the second Intifada, 9/11, the onset of war with Afghanistan, and out of 93 volunteers only 37 finished our two years. In 2003, I went to Iraq with a French NGO, then to Darfur with an American NGO, then I did my Masters at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This degree of public health and developing economies embraced everything. There was a lot of focus on health policy and social science research, emergency nutrition and environmental health, water and sanitation programming. I was most interested in the policy part. I was there from 2005-2006. Then I went to Afghanistan with an Irish NGO, then DR Congo, then back to Afghanistan, then Haiti, and I’ve been with Zamni Lasante in Port-au-Prince for three years. I originally came in as director of water sanitation and gender-based violence programming, and now I work mainly on cervical cancer, developing strategies and HPV vaccines in Haiti. I advise the development team, and we work on communications, donor relations, fundraising, and how we’re going to grow the organization in Haiti, particularly with the government and partner organizations like USAID and the UN.

I’ve wanted to do this type of work since I was seven or eight years old and watching what was going on in East Africa with the famines of the early 1980s. I went into the “non-sexy” parts of development--water and sanitation. What guided me throughout my first years of overseas work was the need for water and sanitation in camp settings, the right to the most simple things. I worked with the National Solidarity Program in Afghanistan, which was a community-driven development program by the Afghan people for the Afghan people. And when I got to Afghanistan, I finally realized that the work I was doing was accompanying, transferring my skills to nationals. I’ve always been working myself out of a job, working with the local governments and communities and being an accompagnateur, and that is what we aim to do now in PIH. 

Can you share your top career goal?

I’d really like to come back to Harvard for a Master’s degree. My father never got to study in Cuba because he had to leave--he had to exile, so education was always very important for my family. I remember asking him when I was eight, “Why hasn’t anyone in our family gone to college?” And he said, “Well, I don’t know.” And I told him I would be the first one. And I asked him what was the best school in America, and he told me Harvard University. I looked up Harvard in the encyclopedia, and I wanted to come. Several of my colleagues here have done the MMSc in Global Health Delivery, and I think it feeds into what I’d like to do going forward.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your current position?

There’s a lot of change going on in Haiti, and with change there’s always growth, but there needs to be political will. There need to be systems in place and in the words of Paul Farmer, without “staff, stuff, space, and systems,” we really can’t do the work that we’re trying to do. So, we have a lot of the space, stuff, and staff, but sometimes the systems still need work, and they take a long time to create. I’m honored that out of the 6,200 employees we have in Haiti, I’m one of only a handful of internationals that are advisors. Haiti has more than the capacity to be able to do everything on its own; we’re here as accompagnateurs to our government counterparts to work on the systems together. 

What impact do you think GHDI will have on your career?

I’m fortunate that 95% of what we’ve discussed in the courses is part of my real, everyday life, and being exposed to people from 27 different countries, is really amazing. A lot of these colleagues have been in a lot of the countries I’ve been in but with different organizations and in different capacities, seeing the country’s health systems from a different side. It’s amazing to see the different aspects of these countries’ health systems that we’ve all worked in. And I think the greatest part of the program is that exposure to real life scenarios.

What are you most proud of?

We recently completed an HPV vaccine campaign for 14,000 girls in three areas of Haiti. A conversation I had during my travels with someone turned into a donation for enough vaccines for 20,000 girls in Haiti for a disease that has a high level of burden: as many as 64% of women in Haiti diagnosed with a cancer are diagnosed with cervical cancer. The fact that this HPV vaccine might prevent one of those girls from one day dying is incredible. That’s what I’m most proud of. I think that’s huge, and really working with the government on finding ways to reduce this huge burden of disease in the coming years is the coolest part of my work with PIH/ZL. 

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in health care in your country?

Join the Peace Corps. I think there are so many more opportunities now than there were 10 or 15 years ago for people who want to work in the health system. Now you have wonderful organizations like PIH, Médecins Sans Frontières, International Rescue Committee, and Oxfam. Learn and listen. Just listen. You know nothing. I still know nothing, and I’ve been doing this for 16 years. It’s a constant learning process. 

More than anything get out there and try to learn. Be a volunteer. And I say Peace Corps because that really exposed me to the world and different cultures. It created a path for me, and a nurturing environment to engage in what I wanted to do in the future. And volunteer for organizations here that do this type of international health work. Watch the news. It’s about knowing what’s happening in the world. Expose yourself to more of the world. And be part of these communities, with GHDonline, stay in touch with the people you connect with.