Irene de Vries, AIGT, completed a Master’s degree in medical anthropology before starting her clinical internships and graduating as medical doctor. International health in general, with maternal and newborn health in particular, has always had her special attention.
Feeling the need for hands-on experience before making a choice between clinical work and policy making, she started residential training in global health and tropical medicine, in paediatrics and gynaecology. Irene graduated from the program in 2013. Together with her partner Huub Stelder, she applied for a job at Saint Francis Hospital in rural Zambia, where they both worked as clinicians for two years. In Saint Francis, Irene focused mainly on paediatrics and obstetric care. After a period of observing, she noticed some of the gaps where she could step in, in order to contribute to a sustainable improvement of the local health care system. She introduced (and educated local staff on) kangaroo mother care for premature babies as a complement to traditional incubator care, supervised midwives and licentiates in training, introduced recurrent neonatal resuscitation scenario training, CTG interpretation training and was involved in the cervical cancer screening clinic. Furthermore she supervised the involvement of the hospital in an international trial on tranexaminic acid in the prevention of death from post-partum hemorrhage. Irene: ‘’I knew it would be an illusion to make structural changes in the relatively short period that we spent in Zambia, but I did know I could make a difference by working side by side with local staff while empowering them on mother and childcare. Looking back, that was what made my time in Saint Francis most meaningful. ‘’
Returning from Zambia, Irene worked for a year in obstetrics and gynaecology at the OLVG in Amsterdam. ‘’ After a few months I realised that this job lacked my primary interest; maternal health in a low resource setting. I knew then that I did not want to pursue a clinical career in the Netherlands. Recently I started working at KIT Royal Tropical Institute as advisor in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), with an emphasis on maternal and newborn care. At KIT my team supports governments and NGOs through capacity building, knowledge generation and health systems strengthening in regard to SRHR. We work together with local partners in LMICs and, through qualitative and quantitative research, evaluate the efficacy of local programs and interventions aimed to improve care.’’
Although Irene chose a career in policy making and research, she still feels that her background as MD Global Health proves invaluable. She explains: ‘I feel I can relate more. I’ve been on the ground. I’ve seen and experienced some of the problems our projects are aimed at.’’
For more information about KIT Health, visit: https://www.kit.nl/health/