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Published: 04 Nov, 2021

I saw the need for public health intervention

PROFILE Cartrine Anyango has worked for several non-governmental organizations in Kenya that provide care and treatment to adolescents and young people with HIV. This also inspired her to learn more about public health. From 2018–2020 she took her Master´s degree in Public Health at Umeå University, at the Department of Epidemiology and Global Health.

Text: Inger Nilsson

"I grew up in an environment where I saw, firsthand, the challenges that communities had to go through and the need for public health intervention", says Cartrine Anyango.

Cartrine Anyango, who was born in 1984, grew up in Nakuru, Kenya. She went to a polytechnic college and got a diploma in information technology from Kisumu Polytechnic. She also has a degree in sociology from Maseno University in Kisumu.

She first worked as a data officer and then realised that her passion was not information technology at all.

"Public health is a big field in Kenya. There are challenges, but also progress – even if it’s slow. We have a long way to go, but we’re moving forward", she says.

Cartrine Anyango has seven years of experience from working in many different areas of public health, with projects and programmes concerning community health systems, sexual and reproductive health as well as rights, violence and abuse in developing countries.

Her studies and work have given her new insights into the problems, the research instruments needed, and also the need for bringing together different actors in order to make a change.

Before coming to Umeå, Cartrine Anyango worked for two years for EGPAF, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, as a regional monitoring and evaluation officer.

However, working with HIV care and treatments for the non-governmental organisation and university studies in Kenya was not enough for Cartrine Anyango.

"I wanted to do more, and I felt that I needed more skills, especially in public health. When I realised that I could study public health in Umeå, I applied. I didn´t get in the first time, but I tried again, and again", she says.

Choosing Umeå University and studies at the Department of Epidemiology and Global Health may not seem like the natural choice for a woman from Kenya – but in her case it was a no-brainer. Cartrine Anyango’s husband was already in Umeå. He had, since 2013, been involved in a PhD sandwich programme, where he alternated work with KEMRI-CDC in Kenya and studies at Umeå University, in the field of climate and health.

Cartrine and her husband also have two children. Two boys, now aged nine and four.

The oldest one was six years old and the youngest only eighteen months when I came to Umeå. It was a very intense period for me when I studied for my Master´s degree. But it worked. My husband helped me a lot. It also helped that I could study in the library until ten o´clock at nights. I did that, especially when I was studying for an exam. I did well in my Master´s and scored distinction in both my theses.

Cartrine Anyango found that her studies in Umeå worked well, for many reasons.

The management at the Department of Epidemiology and Global Health was well-structured. I learned the importance of cooperation and independence, I was self-reliant, and I could plan my work myself. I did it – because I wanted to do it and it suited me well.

The COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for everyone to celebrate the Master ́s graduation last year. "But it was well planned. ‘Everyone’ – friends and family – could join in  an online ceremony", she says.

Cartrine Anyango is also interested in acting and she likes football (as an Arsenal fan). Spending time in nature, for example in and around Umeå and the High Coast of Sweden (Höga kusten) – summer and winter – is one of her favourite activities.

"And I like cycling, but that´s part of my everyday life now here in Sweden – I don’t do it as a work-out. I like to read books or just to sit down by the Nydala Lake. And now I plan to learn more Swedish to integrate well in Swedish society", she says.

Learning Swedish will not be a problem. Cartrine and her family are settling down in Umeå for at least four more years as she has found what she wants to do in the future – take on doctoral studies in Umeå. She started her doctoral studies in public health science in May 2021.

"I want to be part of making a difference in public health. In the future I would like to either venture into academia, research, or work in the developmental project sphere – something along those lines. My main focus is my doctoral studies over the next four years", says Cartrine Anyango.

The story of a name

Cartrine is an unusual name and it can sometimes cause problems.

"As I understand it, it’s a Dutch name, but people often write ‘Catrine’ or change it to ‘Catarina’; some feel I misspelt it and write it as ‘Cathrene‘. That becomes a problem – a big problem – when authorities make mistakes. I have, for example, had to correct my name on my ID card, and still they omitted a letter so my passport carried the wrong spelling too. I´m still working on correcting mistakes."

Cartrine is not the only one in her family who has an unusual name. She has brothers and sisters called Immaculate, George and Ruth. No problem. BUT, there is another brother, with a very unusual Kenyan name – a name that indicates a Swedish connection.

"His name is Svensson", says Cartrine with a big smile. "I don´t know what my mother was thinking. She must have read it in a book."