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An Interview with Carmen Vilanova de Denys, COP for VectorLink Zimbabwe

August 24, 2022

Malaria vector control is a historically male-dominated field, but Abt’s support of women leaders in projects around the world extends to our vector-control projects. We had the opportunity to sit down with one such leader, Carmen Vilanova de Denys, the current Zimbabwe Chief of Party (COP) for USAID’s Abt-led VectorLink project, to hear about her experience in public health as a woman from El Salvador.

What brought you to the field of Public Health?

I am trained as a medical doctor and, coming from a family of doctors, I knew I wanted to provide better health care to communities around me. I wanted to become a pediatrician but, when my daughter was born, I chose to work at the Ministry of Health (MoH) as a medical doctor instead of spending long hours in a hospital. It was at the MoH that I began to study and develop knowledge in public health. All of my professional work has been a learning process; I fell in love with public health at the first clinic where I worked, and as I moved up through different positions, I understood how health begins as a community matter and scales to create a national-level issue.

How has that experience informed your progression at Abt?

I began working at Abt in public health in my home country of El Salvador but grew to expand my level of focus to the global scale. In 2020, I had my golden opportunity to move abroad to my current role in Zimbabwe. PMI VectorLink, an Abt-led project using indoor residual spraying, insecticide-treated nets, and entomological monitoring to reduce the burden of malaria, protected more than 35 million people from malaria in 2021, half a million of which were in Zimbabwe. As COP, I manage meetings with both internal and external stakeholders, coordinating every element of the spraying campaign, including leveraging the budget for impeccable outcomes and maintaining operating procedures and indicators. 

My past roles in public health in El Salvador taught me to be accountable, responsible, specific, and precise with my work. However, at Abt, the culture and openness shape my managing style most. I appreciate the dialogue and communication I can have with the home office team and feel that they are supportive and listen to what I have to say.

What is your greatest professional achievement?

My greatest achievement is being proud of the team with whom I work, and I greatly admire the work each of them does. Myself and one other are the only two women on the Vectorlink Zimbabwe team, and as a woman managing a staff comprised of mostly men, I maintain my humility and let them know I am there to support them rather than acting like I know everything. I listen to everyone’s opinion on the team, because they are extremely knowledgeable in their fields and their advice helps me to make the best decisions.

What is some of the greatest advice you have received?

Life is challenging, but it is beautiful, and it is more beautiful when you see the impact that you are having from where you are. The greatest advice I have ever received is not to be afraid of failure, but instead to learn from it, because you will have challenges every day that you must face. I love what I do, not only because I love public health, but because I love the team that I work with, and I am very, very thankful for that. I am a true believer that you can learn from everybody, anyone can provide you with life lessons.

The Abt Equity team wants to thank Summer 2022 Intern Lily Clurman for her help in conducting and drafting this interview with Carmen.

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