Chief of Party, PMI Impact Malaria Zambia
From an early age, Dr. Victoria Kalota had a passion for helping others and knew she wanted to devote her career to the service of others. Having worked as a scientist, and in the government and private sector, she has focused her energy addressing HIV prior to shifting her work to malaria. Victoria is now Chief of Party for PMI Impact Malaria’s team in Zambia. In this role, she leads the project’s efforts in Zambia to support the National Malaria Elimination Program (NMEP) and Ministry of Health to strengthen the health system’s capacity for prevention and treatment of malaria and to enhance the country’s ability to collect and use data for decision-making.
In celebration of International Women’s Day and women’s contributions to global health, Victoria shares what brought her to a career in malaria service delivery, her proudest accomplishments, and what “a world without malaria” means to her.
What prompted your earliest awareness of malaria and how did it become the focus of your career?
In high school, I had this passion of helping the poor, and the sick especially, so I already knew what I wanted to do with my career. After high school I enrolled immediately in medical school in Zambia. As a biomedical scientist, I’ve worked across sectors – I've worked in the government and with the private sector in the NGO world with PEPFAR as a senior laboratory advisor for about 10 years in the HIV community. Then I decided I needed to diversify into malaria service delivery because even though HIV received so much global attention and effort, malaria remained the number one killer of infants, pregnant women, and women such as myself. I knew this would be an exciting journey. Since 2016 I’ve worked on malaria service delivery projects and joined PMI Impact Malaria because I said to myself that I still need to do too much [towards ending malaria], especially on the clinical side. The diagnostic side was not on pace with the treatment side and I knew we had so much more to do and could have so much more impact.
When you think about your time with PMI Impact Malaria, what is an accomplishment of which you are most proud or that you feel has driven the impact that we’re all working towards collectively?
One of my proudest accomplishments is being part of the PMI Impact Malaria project since the beginning, for the entire 5 years of the project, and one of the core activities through our project which is OTSS+ (Outreach, Training, and Supportive Supervision Plus)*. As a result of our OTSS+ activity, I’m proud of seeing the quality of care improve in the two provinces that we support in Zambia and how keen the government teams with whom we work with are to reduce malaria in their community. There has been so much progress in diagnosis and clinical treatment, so much so that we have our own country slide bank and have generated our own species of malaria for research and microscopy training purposes. This development was critical to improve microscopy skills and the ability to properly diagnose malaria strains so that the correct treatment can be provided. I can now say enthusiastically that as a country we are working towards malaria elimination. There has been a buy-in from top to bottom in Zambia – from staff at the facility level and right at the rural health post, all the way to the government.
*PMI Impact Malaria works across 13 countries to improve malaria service delivery by supporting NMCPs to engage with a four-pronged QI approach. The cornerstone of this strategy is Outreach, Training, and Supportive Supervision Plus (OTSS+), a facility-level approach aimed at improving health facility and provider competency through on-site supportive supervision, troubleshooting, and on-the-job training.
Women are disproportionately impacted by malaria, but they are also a driving force in efforts to end malaria at every level – from the household to the community, nationally and internationally. As we celebrate women in science this month and look towards International Women’s Day in March, what does it mean to you to be a leader for other women in this field?
It’s an opportunity for me to work with other women at provincial level, district level, right up to the health facility. In Zambia, most health facilities are led by women. I've had a lot of opportunity to interact with women leading health facilities to collaborate on our shared goal to reduce malaria and to support them as they ensure that their communities are receiving accurate, quality care. Communication and collaboration with these women leaders and hearing their views and challenges as the providers and the ones seeing patients regularly is very important to me as a leader. It is very important to me to support these women leaders with on-the-job training and the commodities for their health facilities to provide the quality care to their communities. Leadership in this space is about getting information and feedback from these women as leaders providing direct care in their communities so that I can lead advocacy at the national level on their behalf, especially to ensure they have the resources and commodities they need.
Looking ahead in our lifetime when we get to the point where we've reached an end to malaria, what does a world without malaria mean to you and what does it look like to you?
That would mean so much to me, because then I wouldn’t see a child die of malaria or a mother die during childbirth because of complications from malaria. A world free of malaria would impact so many lives. I’d like to see a world where that little village boy or girl has so much strength and are not feeling weak, they’re sleeping without concern, if they want to play with their soccer ball, they can go out to play and their parents are not worried about the risk of a bite from a mosquito. They can be children and they can grow up without fear of malaria.
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