Portrait of Chenai Mathabire. Photo: Thandiwe McCloy
Portrait of Chenai Mathabire. Photo: Thandiwe McCloy

Chenai Mathabire, 34, works as an epidemiologist in an MSF-run HIV/AIDS and TB project in Chiradzulu, Malawi. For the last nine months, her job as an operational research epidemiologist involved conducting TB screening tests and observing the effects of long-term ARV use on the emergence of non-communicable diseases in HIV patients. 
 
A nurse and epidemiologist, Chenai expanded her skills during numerous MSF assignments. She first worked with MSF in her home country, Zimbabwe, in 2011 as a nutrition coordinator and nurse and counsellor working with survivors of gender-based violence in Murambinda. She then progressed to being an MSF clinic manager in Harare. Her first international assignment with MSF was to Uzbekistan where she developed and implemented a patient support system for HIV-positive patients. 
 
Soon afterwards, she headed to Bo in Sierra Leone, to implement and improve an ambulance system, to help save the lives of children and pregnant women facing emergencies. This intervention, which included training nurses to manage patients inside ambulances, substantially reduced maternal mortality rates. Her work extended to supervising community volunteers engaged in malaria testing and treatment and running a primary healthcare clinic.
 
Passionate about promoting healthcare among vulnerable populations, Chenai spent her next two MSF assignments in South Sudan. First she treated people wounded in heavy conflict and then was involved in training and managing nurses in a primary healthcare centre inside a refugee camp.
 
What work were you doing in Malawi?
I conducted operational research involving TB screening tests where we determined whether or not a patient had TB using urine samples. I also carried out a cohort study to observe the effects of long-term ARV use over a 10 year period to look out for the emergence of non-communicable diseases in the group.

What did you like about working there? 
I enjoyed working in Malawi because it’s similar to my home country, Zimbabwe. It was like working at home; the food is the same, the climate is pleasant and it’s safe. Malawians are also really friendly, open people.

Describe a typical day in the Chiradzulu project
Work started at 7.30am and I would help the team prepare for their tasks such as collecting items from the pharmacy and checking that we had appropriate equipment for examinations, among other activities. I then observed the team’s overall performance, including whether they were respecting research protocols and their interaction with the patients. On some days, I checked whether we were meeting targets and how to overcome challenges.
 
What keeps you working for MSF? 
I love how MSF brings healthcare to vulnerable people in remote areas. I also appreciate how the different departments within MSF come together to help people on the ground.
I also enjoy having the chance to provide suggestions on how work should be done, being able to communicate with anyone, no matter their position and the high levels of transparency and accountability within the organisation. 

What have you learnt through your assignments with MSF?
I’ve learnt to appreciate what I have. For the first two weeks of my initial assignment in South Sudan, we had no fruit or vegetables as the ground was too muddy for the plane with supplies to land. I became grateful for the food I was eating after seeing that the people around me survived on wild fruit and some small fish caught in the river.    

Which personal attributes have helped you carry out your work with the organisation?
I put my all into every assignment I go on, no matter where it is. If I have an objective on an assignment, I work hard to achieve it. If I can’t, I need to understand proper reasons why I didn’t succeed. I don’t give up easily. This attitude has helped me achieve my goals at MSF and I’m motivated by people appreciating my work. It’s important to feel that I’m making a difference.

What are your future plans?
I’ll soon return to Malawi for a few weeks to analyse data on the TB and ageing cohort studies we are undertaking and then write reports on what I find.

Read more of MSF's activities in Malawi.