Alumni Profile: Shubha Nagesh

Shubha Nagesh (Executive Programme in Global Health Leadership, 2021) is the Director for Research & Follow up Programs within the Latika Roy Foundation, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India. In this profile, Shubha explains her work with persons with disabilities, particularly childhood disabilities, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally impacted these individuals.
Shubha Nagesh

Why did you decide to study at LSHTM and how did your studies compliment your career?

I was keen to build capacity and knowledge around leadership in global health, and the programme seemed a perfect fit.

The programme opened an access door for me into the world of global health. As someone working with a small non-profit in one of India’s smallest hill states, this meant a huge opportunity to meet and hear from some of the greatest minds in global health. I soaked up the knowledge and the chance to meet and learn from pioneers in the field.

Were the relationships you formed at LSHTM useful – in what way?

The teachers at the front of the room were great! The guests who came to meet us and teach us a trick or two in global health security or diplomacy were unbelievable! My coach was excellent and really worked hard to align me and ground me in the leadership space. My peers, all accomplished, awesome colleagues, are now friends for life. This peer group is with me for life and makes me feel really good.

Please summarise your achievements over the years and how you feel about them?

For many years, mostly no one in my professional circle knew about global health and no one who knew me understood much about childhood disability. So, when I shared my dream of making childhood disability a global health story, there was this deafening silence. I struggled, grappled, lost heart, and was miserable at times. Always an outlier, I worked hard to fit in - fit into disability networks as the lone global health professional and into global health networks as the only person who worked on disability, specifically childhood disability. 

It’s been ten years now. Many see me as a professional with a unique set of skills who can contribute much to her cause.

And how do I feel? My mountain is waiting, and I must be on my way!

Most of us have grand ambitions, and we know we may face even greater setbacks. But by and large, “being driven by hope,” we are eager to defy the odds and fight for a better future. There will be days when it could take more than hope.

What do you hope to further achieve in your field in the future?

Ten years ago, I decided to work to improve lives for children with disabilities through my organisation, The Latika Roy Foundation. Imagine the terrain in the foothills of the Himalayas. Instead of asking the children and their families to travel long distances dependent on scant and unreliable transport, our team meets them where they are - in their community or home. Every one in eight children could have autism; why is this not a priority in global health? Particularly in low and middle-income countries. And that’s just one disability. There are many different kinds of developmental disabilities. The case to invest in early childhood development is clear - it is not sufficient to fund programmes that allow more children to live - how are they thriving? What is their quality of life? How can they be supported? These are crucial questions. I try to bring visibility to this by writing, speaking and bringing to the fore childhood disability in the broad context of global health.

What advice do you have for current students?

Leadership is also about equity. Equity is about restoring balance to the world. Achieving equity will be hard as hell and will require the willingness to throw the familiar out the window and to take risks. Equity can create a path from hope to change. We have to strive for equity in every way we can.

How has COVID-19 affected your work?

COVID has disproportionately impacted persons and children with disabilities globally. We switched to online services for the first time in 25 years to continue providing intervention services for children. Cut off from all other support, caregivers, centres and professionals, these video calls became a lifeline for parents and children. Persons with disabilities cannot be left behind if we want to achieve universal health coverage.

Final comments.

Disability is not inability. It is an identity. It is a lived experience. Inclusion is no longer a choice to be made. It is the only way forward. It's not about sympathy, or pity, or disabled people being noble. It's just common sense, human rights and social justice. 

The good news is—with intentionality and investment—we can get this job done together. The future depends on it! Persons with disabilities are the single largest minority group in the world today. They will not go away. They will touch you someday.

It is my plea to each one of you today to address disability in the best way you can, both in your professional and personal spheres.

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