World Traveler for Public Health: Meet HKI’s Nancy Haselow

An interview with HKI's Vice President and Regional Director for Asia-Pacific
Nancy Haselow in China

Have you ever met anyone who has visited and worked in over 50 countries and lived in Zaïre, Niger, Cambodia, Vietnam, The Philippines, Cameroon, Senegal and the U.S.? We have, and it’s our Vice President and Regional Director for Asia-Pacific, Nancy J. Haselow. I recently asked Nancy to tell us about her career in public health, and found someone who is not only an inveterate traveler, but also a tireless crusader for improving the lives of as many vulnerable people as possible.

How Nancy got to public health: “Growing up in Wisconsin, I was destined for medical school, but was extremely intrigued with going overseas. Three weeks after receiving my B.A. in Biology from Saint Olaf College, I joined the Peace Corps and went to Zaïre (now Democratic Republic of Congo) to teach biology and chemistry. While there, I realized that medical treatment wasn’t the solution to improving the lives of most people: public health could have a bigger impact among whole populations by helping new mothers provide better nutrition to their babies, and helping young children survive beyond the age of five.” Acting on her conviction, Nancy returned to the U.S. and earned her Master’s Degree in Public Health from UCLA.  While there, she did a public health internship at the Menominee Tribal Clinic in Keshena, Wisconsin; she and her husband have continued to make the reservation their home when in the U.S.

A global career: Nancy started with Helen Keller International in 1989, working in New York with HKI’s Vitamin A Technical Assistance Program, a global program that undertook advocacy and tools development to help governments and NGOs integrate vitamin A interventions into their public health programs. In the ensuing 20 years, Nancy has been Acting Country Director in Niger, Cambodia and The Philippines; Country Director in The Philippines and Cameroon; and HKI’s Director for Onchocerciasis Control, based in Senegal. Since 2006, she has been Vice President, Regional Director for Asia-Pacific based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In 1994 Nancy actually left HKI for about three years to move back to the Menominee reservation, where her husband was teaching at the College, while she consulted. Soon, however, HKI started asking her to fill in for various countries, and she re-joined Helen Keller International in 1998.

Most gratifying moment at Helen Keller International: “My experience in Cameroon. When I arrived there as the newly-appointed Country Director, the Head of Nutrition from the Ministry of Health was waiting for me at my office to discuss the first national nutrition survey. Three weeks later, I left for the field to work with a team to develop the protocol and train them in how to do he vitamin A and anemia survey, while also trying to manage our country office. The Ministry had only half the money it needed, but it stepped up, and, despite many difficulties and challenges, worked 16-hour days to complete the survey. This superhuman effort set the stage for a core team in Cameroon that accomplished a lot over the five years I was there. By the time I left, the nutrition team at the Ministry had become a department, and the team leader had become a cabinet member. Our collaboration helped elevate nutrition to the ministerial level in Cameroon. This is an example of a true partnership.”

What’s exciting now: “Helen Keller International’s 20 years in developing Homestead Food Production with small women landholders in Asia-Pacific. We’re now on the verge of building on and expanding this program and the global community is looking at it as a real solution for addressing malnutrition. It’s exciting because, having worked on and advocated for vitamin A supplementation for 20 years, I welcome another tool in the vitamin A tool box to achieve adequate vitamin A intake among those at risk of deficiency. This will extend our reach to vulnerable children, so my work at HKI is coming full circle.”

Sources of inspiration: “I have rheumatoid arthritis, and when I’m not feeling up to par yet have numerous deadlines looming, I think of people like Dr. Venkataswamy of Aravind Eye Hospital and Helen Keller, who both overcame incredible difficulties to achieve so much. I also think of the many inspirational people I’ve met in the field during my years at Helen Keller International who could do whatever they want wherever they want, yet have chosen stay in their countries to help improve conditions. That inspires me to push through and to keep focused on why I got into this field in the first place!”

Fun off the job: “When I’m not working, my favorite thing to do is walk on a beach, in the woods or through back streets. I have always loved sports and still do what I can even with the rheumatoid disease. I swim as often as I can. I also love spending time with my husband and my family playing games, going to the movies or reading. I’m an explorer at heart and I love to see what is over the next hill!”

Can you top Nancy’s amazing travel experience? Nancy has visited and worked in 52 countries, including almost every African country. Have you or someone you know traveled more than Nancy? If so, share your story in the comments below!

UPDATE: Nancy was interviewed by her hometown newspaper in July 2011.  Read her interview and learn even more about her fascinating life.

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Categories: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Helen Keller, Preventing Blindness, Reducing Malnutrition, Staff Profiles, United States

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