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Spotlight on... Debra Jackson

Debra Jackson is stood next to a white dome that says 'Everest Base Camp' with mountain in background. Debra is dressed all in black thermals with sunglasses on.

Q. Where are you from?

I was born in Miami Florida USA and raised in a town called Jupiter Florida.

Q. What three words would you use to describe...

Yourself?

Adventure-seeker, Calm (in a storm), Keep-moving

Your role?

Mentor, Colleague, Friend

Q. What is your role at LSHTM and what does it involve?

I am the inaugural Takeda Chair in Global Child Health and Deputy Director of the MARCH Centre. The stated aim of the Takeda chair is to apply implementation science approaches to improve child survival and child health around the world, including testing innovations to inform policy development and service delivery, and catalysing evidence uptake to reduce the millions of preventable deaths amongst children especially in low-and middle-income countries. The research emphasis will address areas of greatest global child health burden.

Q. How long have you worked here (and what was your previous job)?

I joined LSHTM in August 2020 coming from UNICEF where I was 7 years in New York working on implementation research, global MNCH data and digital health. Prior to that I was 14 years as a professor at the University of Western Cape South Africa working on MNCH projects across Africa.

Q. Tell us about a project you’re currently working on?

Currently I am doing quite a bit of work on global MNCH data and implementation research working with the Every Newborn Action Plan, WHO, UNICEF, the global Child Health Task Force and Health Data Collaborative.  In particular I am supporting six exciting implementation research projects for the Quality of Care and PSBI networks led by local implementers in five countries. 

Q. What is your favourite thing about working here?

The colleagues – for me it is always about the people!

Q. Can you tell us the best career advice you’ve ever been given?

One of my mentors noted that people should change their ‘job’ every 7 years or so, not necessarily your position or your career - just what you do – to stay fresh and interested, keep things new!

Q. Proudest career achievement?

I have several!

The first is I was co-PI on the South African PMTCT Evaluation which was the first national evaluation of the effectiveness of an at-scale PMTCT programme in Africa confirming operational effectiveness of PMTCT in reducing HIV transmission from mothers to their infants. 

The second, and the one of which I am most proud, was a small piece of work that led to a big impact.  In studying hospital treatment for severe malnutrition in rural South Africa, we discovered that lack of a birth certificate was obstructing access to social welfare grants.  This work was highlighted in a national news programme and started a movement by the national agencies to improve birth registration (<50% to 90%) and coverage of child social welfare programmes (40% to 80%). The South African birth registration programme became a leader in Africa. 

Finally, my students who have all gone on to do great things, in particular, my first PhD student who now leads the Health Department for the Western Cape Province, South Africa.  She is an amazing colleague and friend.

Q. How does being a member of MARCH support your work?

For me it is the network of a colleagues across LSHTM and affiliated organisations. Collaboration is key to success in Public Health.  We must share ideas, resources, credit and successes.

Q. “When I’m not working I am…”

Binge watching TV or movies, hiking, cooking, reading, experiencing, traveling

Q. Who is your biggest inspiration? 

My dad – he set me on a course of adventure and inquisitive spirit – he wanted me to be the first woman astronaut (unfortunately I was 15+ years too young).  Fathers are important for girls encouraging them to seek their dreams and not be held back by gender norms.

Q. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be a nurse, inspired by a TV show called Emergency!  So I went to nursing school and became a neontatal intensive care nurse.  I got into public health because I wanted to prevent preterm birth.

Q. What is your favourite...

Book?

Harry Potter

Food?

My dad invented a soup at 16 years old which is a bacon, BBQ sauce and tomato stew which he called “Vinegar Soup”.

Place?

Top 5 places on earth which bring me peace: Sitting on a Florida Beach, Hiking Table Mountain Cape Town South Africa, Sunset at Boudhanath Stupa Kathmandu Nepal or Luxembourg Gardens Paris, Nighttime at the Trevi Fountain Rome.

Q. What would it surprise people to know about you?

I have hiked to Mount Everest Base Camp and have over 150 scuba dives, including the Blue Hole Belize and the Silfra Iceland.

Q. If everything goes to plan with your work, what do you hope to have achieved in 10-years' time?

My aim is to establish a strong research portfolio for the Takeda Chair and mentor colleagues to continue the chair when I retire.

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