I was born and grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire. I completed secondary school with outstanding academic achievements, and I wanted to complete a degree in either medicine or geological and mining engineering in order to obtain a high profile career to save my family and community from poverty. However, due to corruption under the dictator Mobutu, entry requirements for the school of medical or geoscience was not necessarily based on one’s academic achievements. These degrees were for children of powerful politicians and government officials. Instead, I was offered a place in either nursing or public health nutrition.
Because some of the public health and nutrition courses were taught by internationally renowned foreign professors, I decided to complete a degree of public health nutrition. I obtained my bachelor degree in 1990. After completing my bachelor degree, I worked with the Zairian health department at state level, coordinating community nutrition programs and vaccination coverage.
In 1994 I was recruited by UNICEF to oversee the survey of vaccination coverage and vitamin A distribution. This position provided me with an opportunity to appreciate integrated public health practice. Consequently, I obtained a position with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees as a nutrition supervisor of refugee camps, seconded to Concern Worldwide. I was involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of public health and nutrition interventions to address the health needs of the 500,000-800,000 Rwandan refugees who crossed the border into the North Kivu province of Zaire. This included the coordination of measles immunisation campaigns and vitamin A distribution as well as the management and evaluations of nutritional interventions such as selective feeding programs and the general food distribution.
My work in refugee camps increased my interest in integrated public health nutrition. In 1997 I emigrated to Australia to pursue further studies, completing my master’s degree in public health in 2000 and a PhD in 2004. While completing my studies, in 2003 I was appointed as a Senior Program Quality Advisor at World Vision Australia to oversee more than 40 AusAID NGO cooperation programmes, covering sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, the Pacific and Asia. However, working with non-government organisations has always been a challenge due to the disconnect between evidence and practice. Most programmes were not theory-driven or informed by evidence and best practice, and in many case were opportunistic in nature dependent on funding availability.
In 2007, I decided to become an academic to bridge the gap between evidence and practice, focusing on migration, social disadvantage, and health. As a human right activist on issues related to public health and nutrition inequalities, I formed the African Review Panel and the African Leadership, Learning and Advocacy Group (www.allag.org.au) which helps disseminate evidence generated by my research to the grass roots level and mobilise the community to devise solutions to identified problems or to uptake successful interventions.
Past appointments: 2007-2010, senior research fellow, Deakin University. 2003-2006, senior program quality advisor, World Vision Australia. 2000-2002: state-wide research & evaluation coordinator, Centre for Culture Ethnicity and Health. 1996-1997: nutrition supervisor of refugee camp, Care Australia. 1995: nutrition supervisor, UNHCR/Concern Worldwide. 1993-1994: surveyor of vaccination coverage, UNICEF.