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Chaitali Sinha Senior Program Officer Governance for Equity in Health Systems

March 11, 2013

Chaitali Sinha would be the first to admit it can be difficult to explain exactly what she does for a living as a Senior Program Officer at IDRC.


“I’ve always had a strong interest in things that aren’t simple,” she says. “And development is anything but simple.”


After completing an undergraduate degree in management information systems from the University of Ottawa, Sinha began a MA at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. Until then, she had obtained all her formal education in her hometown but now her learning was set to go global.


Her master’s degree did not require a research thesis but she chose to cross the globe to study how gender influences the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in Bhutan. Rather than make assumptions about the impact of mobile phones and the Internet, she sought to measure the effects herself. In 2006, she spent three months in the Himalayan kingdom learning more about the local context, conducting interviews, and gathering data.


Fascinating challenges


Doing her own research in the developing world laid the groundwork for her current job. Having walked in researcher shoes has enabled her to empathize with IDRC’s research partners. “You gain a deeper understanding of how to support people going through that journey themselves,” she says.


Part of her job involves sifting through and providing feedback on research funding applications with colleagues at IDRC’s head office in Ottawa. But it is meeting researchers where they work in developing countries that Sinha says provides the really fascinating challenges of her profession.


“Going into the field grounds us and injects direct experiences back into what we do,” she says.


Building teams


Sinha is a strong believer in exploring and nurturing the interconnections among ideas and people. And so when she received grant applications from two like-minded organizations in Uganda, she began connecting the dots. Both groups — Uganda Chartered HealthNet and Uganda National Association of Community and Occupational Health — sought to improve community health, through a complementary mix of technology and training.


Sinha helped bring the groups together — along with the Ugandan Ministry of Health, Makerere University, and other partners — to collectively design and work on a two-year initiative that is using ICTs to strengthen health systems in Uganda.


“Strengthening Community Health in Uganda,” or STRETCH-Uganda, responded to the uncoordinated spread of health projects across the country that were using ICTs to work with community health workers. Now, Sinha hopes to help forge connections between the STRETCH-Uganda team and a new IDRC-funded initiative with community health workers that seeks to improve health services for all Ugandans.


Linking systems


Sinha expects to visit Haiti soon, where IDRC-funded researchers are devising innovative ways to link the country’s various electronic health record systems. That effort is responding to a clear need to strengthen health information flows in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. The Haitian research team hopes to achieve this through better tracking of patient care, disease surveillance, and management of medical equipment and drug supplies.   


But Sinha’s interactions around the globe aren’t her only form of continuing education. She is also taking distance courses on global health policy from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  Like the researchers she works with around the world who are constantly seeking new knowledge to solve practical problems, her brain is wired for learning.


Kathleen Clark is a journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa. This article won an IDRC-sponsored contest in international journalism.