Handwashing was my first love in global health. I was a medical doctor in the UK when the opportunity arose for me to take time out from my clinical practice and work for the British Government’s Department of Health. I was leading on various aspects of national healthcare reform, like comparing health systems internationally, and designing and delivering a campaign to engage doctors in actively improving healthcare safety and quality. I realized that while I loved clinical medicine, I was also excited by the challenges and opportunities of public health and policy – and I wanted to look beyond my own country to understand the global context.
I started working for the World Health Organization in Geneva on national delivery of WHO’s first Global Patient Safety Challenge, Clean Care is Safer Care – focused on hand hygiene. This is where I first became a handwashing advocate, developing various WHO tools to support handwashing implementation by health workers across the world to reduce infections and improve patient safety. I still fondly remember having a tear in my eye the first time I heard the handwashing songs recorded by pop stars in Central America – my introduction to the first Global Handwashing Day.
After my time at WHO, I returned to the UK and diversified my international program management experience while developing a closer understanding of the global health stakeholders, including the private sector. I was appointed as Deputy Medical Director of Bupa, Britain’s largest international healthcare company where I led on health communications, quality and safety of care, and healthcare innovations around the world. I was concurrently appointed to the Board of Directors of global health NGO Basic Needs, and achieved a joint Masters degree in Health Policy, Planning and Financing from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and London School of Economics. My Masters studies focused on scaling up global health interventions, and was published by The Lancet medical journal.
My next move brought me fully back into international development. I relocated from London to Washington, DC in 2011 to continue my WHO patient safety research as a Visiting Scholar at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and taking up the position of Head of Policy and Advocacy for the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). At GAIN, I worked with public private partnerships to improve nutrition, with a focus on policy and advocacy issues ranging from national and local legislation to the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Most recently I have been working for the World Bank as a public health consultant, and for Georgetown University where I am Adjunct Assistant Professor in International Health. I run their Mental Health in Global Development course, co-run their Global Health Promotion course, and teach on their Maternal and Child Health course. For fun, I dabble in mHealth, and in my spare time I read, ride my bicycle, write for the Huffington Post and National Geographic, paddleboard on the Potomac River, run a monthly storytelling show, and travel around the world (53 countries and counting!).
I am delighted to be appointed to lead the PPPHW Secretariat, particularly at this exciting time for handwashing, where lessons and evidence in the field have the opportunity to come together to have real impact on the current global target setting processes like the Post-2015 Development Framework. I look forward to speaking to as many of you as possible to understand your different perspectives, ideas and expertise about how PPPHW can punch above its weight in the coming years, and the opportunities we can seize to have important, lasting positive impact on global health. The moment for a focus on handwashing is now, and I am delighted to be a part of it.
Author: Dr. Layla McCay is the new Director of the Public Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW) Secretariat, housed at FHI 360. The USAID-funded WASHPlus Project supports the PPPHW in its efforts to promote handwashing and hygiene improvement. Follow Layla on Twitter: @LaylaMcCay