Making an impact in the global health sphere: a Q&A with Professor Kalipso Chalkidou

Kalipso-fullIn 2016 Imperial College London introduced a new title into their annual round of academic promotions: Professor of Practice. The title recognizes individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to education, research or leadership outside of the established criteria for a professorship. 2017’s round of promotions sees our own Global Health and Development Group Director Kalipso Chalkidou included in the list of recipients.

I caught up with Professor Chalkidou to discuss her work in the Global Health sphere and her new position, both at Imperial and as the newly appointed Director of Global Health Policy at the Center for Global Development.

What do you find most satisfying about working in Global Health?

Well it is a very broad field – can be about clinical medicine at the frontline or advocacy and norm setting in Geneva’s UN entities. So I like this flexibility which brings with it the chance to work with colleagues from different disciplines, law and ethics, economics and medicine, computing and engineering. I also like the potential to make a difference to very large numbers of people – this can be quite scary at times but I think working towards a goal such as universal healthcare coverage, is in itself quite inspiring. Finally I like the debates and disagreements…There are many different viewpoints and people are always ready to argue their case which can be fun and instructive!

You originally set up NICE International, which has now moved to Imperial College London to become the International Decision Support Initiative (iDSI), has the transition gone smoothly?

Things have gone really well – we maintain our links with NICE and most importantly its vast professional and academic networks which are at the forefront of methods innovation, as well as being well wired into policy and the practical challenges of frontline practice in the English UHC system. Imperial offers a supportive environment and the opportunity to engage with colleagues from different departments and schools has been enthusing. We are working with colleagues from the department of computing, on applying machine learning principles to improving evidence informed decision making in China and Serbia through an EPSRC grant, and have just secured a Wellcome collaborative award to explore the ethical challenges of making tough decisions on coverage in South Africa under the latter’s National Health Insurance. We also won a Global Challenge grant, together with King’s College London and the University of Cambridge, on healthcare practice and systems: especially related to cancer and mental health amongst refugees and displaced people in the Middle East. Finally, we are engaging in technical assistance work globally through Imperial Consultants. So this is definitely a more empowering environment!

Congratulations are in order for your new role as the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) Director of Global Health Policy! What is your role going to entail and what would you most like to achieve?

Thank you! As the Director for Global Health Policy I will be leading the Center’s programme of work in this space, providing strategic direction and also carrying out my own empirical research in the field – which makes my formal links to Imperial College London extremely relevant. I will also be doing outreach, fundraising, public engagement and have to build a stronger social media presence (I must admit I am not a tweeter, nor a blogger and my Facebook page has hundreds of unanswered notifications…sorry). I will also work towards publishing papers, books and commentaries and in general respond to developments in the space of global health policy, hopefully in a constructive and helpful (and challenging at times!) manner.

Amanda Glassman has produced great work on Benefits Package design and I look forward to continuing this work with Amanda. I will also be working on strategic procurement and on global entities’ norm setting functions and how consistent these are with countries’ realities (yes I am referring to WHO amongst others!). I am looking forward to doing more with the Institute for Global Health Innovation, building on recent work on an impact evaluation framework for CDC and in general, ways to enhance (and verify) the impact of investment in the private sector in health in LMICs. In addition, I’ll be looking at how CGD’s track record on performance based contracting and impact investment fits with donors’ (DFID’s in particular) expressed commitment to ensure the value for money of all aid.

As you’re not stepping down from your role at Imperial, how do you envisage managing your two roles?

Well, CGD have been instrumental in securing our team’s largest and main grant here at Imperial: the international Decision Support Initiative. So it makes absolute sense to continue as the lead for this work and any further extensions. Maintaining my strong links with frontline policy makers in LMICs is a plus for my CGD role allowing me to remain plugged in to frontline policy issues faced by countries far away from the global advocacy crowd in Geneva, Seattle or London. The work of iDSI can be a source of ideas and connections for CGD – and vice versa. CGD’s innovative Working Group approach, trying to tackle real world challenges through actionable recommendations and effective partnerships, can be taken up by iDSI where appropriate given the skill set and geography of our team and partners!

Oh and I am very pleased to have been awarded a Professorship of Practice in Global Health in this year’s academic promotions, which will further cement my relationship with and commitment to Imperial College!

CGD are a partner of iDSI, so I imagine that leading both of these teams will provide opportunities to strengthen their partnership and increase synergy?

Absolutely – I touched on this above. But also research: CGD can contribute to research proposals led out of Imperial. As a globally renowned and well respected development think tank, a partnership can strengthen research applications for Official Development Assistance monies, including to the Global Challenge Fund which is about to open another round of calls.

So yes, absolutely synergistic.

You’ve worked hard to achieve influential and respected positions in your career. What would your advice be to someone just starting out in a Global Health profession?

I am not sure I have much advice! I have always been very lucky to work with good people, competent and fun to be with. I have had support from senior colleagues who have been extremely generous with their time for me…I guess when you enjoy what you do, then you do achieve a lot, the whole thing becomes a bit like a virtuous circle. Work is not the only thing that matters – I am writing this from Greece where I am spending a week with family and friends and lots of cats and dogs…So unwinding and disconnecting also matter, I am not very good at this by the way – so this is also advice to self!