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Spotlight on Professor Nancy Edwards

14 December 2016

Nancy Edwards in Sierra Leone

The GACD’s Management Committee plays a critical role in developing the nuts and bolts of the Alliance’s output. The thirteen members from each agency across the globe meet monthly by teleconference and shape the output of our work. From humble beginnings in 2012 of just four members to its current group of thirteen strong, Nancy Edwards has played a critical role in its development. From volunteer nurse in Sierra Leone to Scientific Director of the Institutes of Public and Population Health at Canada’s Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), Nancy shares her personal reflections and influences in conversation with the GACD’s Rosie Bartlett.


Rosie Bartlett: What has been the most exciting/rewarding thing about engaging in the GACD and its evolution?

Nancy Edwards: Well, I think overall it has been the remarkable evolution of the GACD in a relatively short period of time and seeing how many agencies are on board and the opportunity to work with colleagues, organise the committee and of course members of the Secretariat, and being able to advance the whole area of implementation science in the portfolio of GACD funding opportunities. The annual network meetings have been a great opportunity to hear about the progress that the teams have made and some of the innovations that the teams are working on in the field, and just to see the level of commitment that the researchers have across such a wide range of countries has been terrific.

Rosie Bartlett:  What sparked your interest in implementation science?

Nancy Edwards: Well, I was at the meeting on Hypertension in Beijing and that was one of the first times that the members of what became the Management Committee, came together and we were charged with developing the first funding opportunity related to hypertension.  I just saw it as being the arena of science where we thought we need to be working to make a dent in the problem of chronic disease.  We have a lot of data on the strategies that are effective if you look at many of the areas where the GACD is working, hypertension being a really good example of that.  We’ve known how to treat and manage hypertension for a very long time, but actually trying to get interventions implemented and appropriately adapted to different contextual circumstances, making sure that the interventions are cost effective and engaging stakeholders, policy makers and others in what needs to be done to enhance the uptake of those interventions, all seem to be pertinent challenges. So the implementation science focus was an excellent fit with that.

Rosie Bartlett: Do you think you’ve achieved what you set out to do in the management committee from the early days?

Nancy Edwards: I think If you asked any of us in the management committee in the early days what we were trying to achieve, it would have been just the basics of figuring out how to put together a joint funding opportunity, that could work across all of our agencies and I think there’s been a huge expansion of the work that appears to have been done not just across the management committee but the whole GACD. I guess we have many more insights into what those possibilities are as the GACD has evolved.  I feel that in the time that I was involved with it, we were able to make some great strides and that work is continuing. 

Rosie Bartlett:  What lessons did you learn for future chairs?

Nancy Edwards: That’s a great question.  I would say few things.  One is the need to really find ways to engage all members of the management committee in the work that needs to be done and some of those are addressing the real pragmatic challenges, such as finding a time of the day or evening that can work for everybody for a call, looking at ways to run a meeting so that people who have English as a second language are able to manage to contribute easily.  Some of the small working groups that have been set up have been very helpful and given the input of management committee members and bringing back some recommendations for the larger group to look at.  I think using the opportunities that we’ve had for face-to-face meetings have been extremely important and often we’ve been able to manage two face to face meetings a year making sure that we really listen to and are sensitive to the input of our other committee members from Low-and Middle-Income countries, because I think that they really need to be driving the agenda of the GACD.

Rosie Bartlett:  You started your career in Nursing.  Has this original choice influenced your final career choices?

Nancy Edwards: Absolutely. Yes. I started out in nursing and I’m still in nursing.  I very quickly moved into the area of community health nursing.  So I guess that’s really been my interest and my forte and the opportunity to work in West Africa, in Sierra Leone for 5 years was really a pivotal experience for me in terms of my career and my interest in continuing to work in low- and middle -income countries.

From the age of 16 onwards I knew that I wanted to spend some time working in a developing country and I applied for voluntary work they offered me a job, which involved teaching and community nursing, and I was very interested in both. So, I went over to Sierra Leone for what was supposed to be a 2-year period and then it turned into 3 years and I came back and did my Masters Degree and then returned for another 2 years. So it was 5 years all together. 

I had a nascent interest in Global Health early on.  I was a teenager during the war in Vietnam and I originally wanted to work with children who had been affected by the war, but my career took a slightly different turn in terms of my choice of nursing, but the opportunity to work in Sierra Leone has really been a pivotal platform from which I’ve continued to do work in a variety of LMICs.  I continue to do work in Kenya and Jamaica in particular at present.

Rosie Bartlett:  What now?

Nancy Edwards: The focus now is my sabbatical leave, which started at the end of August when I finished my term as Scientific Director, so I’ve been doing a lot of writing. Things that I’ve been wanting to get to for a while and I spent half of the year in Kenya and Jamaica and am largely based in Ottawa.

Nancy Edwards was the chair of the GACD’s Management Committee from 2014-15