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Q&A with Kamm Schneider, PATH’s new director of malaria and neglected tropical diseases

November 20, 2019 by PATH

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Kammerle Schneider has her sights set on reducing the burden of disease around the world. Photo: PATH

Kamm Schneider—new director of our Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases program, and of our Center for Malaria Control and Elimination—shares her full-circle experience finding PATH, and her vision for our portfolio.

For more than 20 years, PATH has worked with countries and partners to develop new tools and approaches for reducing the burden of malaria and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Our work is expansive, ranging from the development of diagnostics, vaccines, and vector control tools, to building capacity within national programs, and leveraging digital and data innovations to accelerate impact. PATH is driven to help control, eliminate—and eventually—to eradicate the costly burden of malaria and NTDs.

We are delighted to announce that Kammerle Schneider will be leading these efforts as the new director of our malaria and neglected tropical diseases program. Kamm has a personal stake in this work, and a big vision for this new role.

Q1: What inspired your decision to pursue a career in public health?

It was literally collapsing on a rural road in Guatemala. I was serving in the Peace Corps after graduating in international studies from the University of Washington. I had been walking my dog, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up in the middle of the street. I had no idea what happened and there was a searing pain in my left shoulder, which turned out to have been dislocated in the fall. Fortunately, my dog led me back to our community to get help. Our village didn’t have a doctor nor health clinic, so the veterinarian reset my dislocated shoulder.

The Peace Corps brought me to Guatemala City for further medical tests to evaluate why I collapsed in the first place. My MRI showed there was a quarter-sized cyst on my brain. I’d had a seizure due to brain swelling from neurocysticercosis—a preventable and treatable neglected tropical disease endemic in Central America. It’s caused by the larval cysts of the pork tapeworm spread through contaminated food or water.

I was immediately flown back to the US where I entered a study at the National Institutes of Health. I had amazing doctors and world class care and was able to fully recover. I kept thinking of the those in my village with the same symptoms, and potentially the same disease, who wouldn’t be diagnosed, much less treated. After that experience, I knew I wanted to work in public health and find ways to ensure others, no matter where they lived in the world, had the same opportunities to lead a healthy, productive life.

Q2: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my work over the last eight years contributing to growth and impact in our malaria portfolio at PATH.

We now have more than 200 staff across more than 15 countries around the world working to develop and scale new tools and approaches to not only reduce the burden, but actually eliminate malaria and NTDs. We’ve also built a strong team of data and analytics experts to accelerate that work through improved targeting and tailoring of interventions.

While we've grown our portfolio, we've continued to invest in maintaining strong, trusted partnerships with national programs. Our work via the Malaria Control and Elimination Partnership in Africa project, where I most recently worked as Deputy Director, is a great example of that.

Additionally, my colleagues and I have created a space where technical experts across the globe, both internal and external to PATH, can come together to collaborate and problem solve. The Center for Malaria Control and Elimination provides a forum to share what we’re learning and refine our approach, which I believe is essential for all our work.

Q3: What do you hope to accomplish in this role?

I’m privileged to work with an incredibly talented team of creative problem solvers and experts in their field. I’m particularly excited about our growth in vector control, data and digital, and the expansion of our operational research and evaluation capabilities.

Going forward, I hope to continue to grow our in-country platforms and connectivity, leveraging the myriad PATH malaria and other projects that we have in a number of high burden countries.

Key to any success is our network of collaborators. As any of us working in the field know, progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Our partners, national country programs, local NGOs, researchers, the private sector, and donors are all essential to true impact.

And always, I look forward to keeping the people affected by malaria and NTDs at the center of our work, and to do what we can to ensure they eventually have the same advantages I did.