Florence Wakesho

On October 20, 2021, news was circulating in Nairobi that the government was lifting the daily COVID-19 curfew that ran from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. When Florence Wakesho heard the news, she couldn’t help but think of all the hurdles and adjustments she had to make due to the pandemic.

“These restrictions affected our work schedule,” said Wakesho, focal person for soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) and schistosomiasis control efforts for Kenya’s Ministry of Health. “Our activities require mass gatherings like trainings, meeting communities, treatments, et cetera. However, we had to go the extra mile and conduct a risk assessment of COVID-19 in the implementation areas and put protective measures to ensure both our teams and communities were safe in all these activities.”

Wakesho coordinates activities such as the mass drug administrations used to prevent and treat disease in communities, as well as surveys and operational research to reduce infection rates and reach the goal of eliminating schistosomiasis and STH.


COVID-19 put a halt to most activities due to the need for social distancing until there was more information on ways to conduct public health services in a safe way. 

In Kenya, this interruption left an estimated 17.4 million people at risk for STH, a disease spread by contact with soil contaminated by human feces, and at risk for schistosomiasis, a water-borne disease carried by freshwater snails. Both STH and schistosomiasis are diseases prevalent in areas of poor hygiene and sanitation.

Wakesho and her colleagues brainstormed ways of conducting the large-scale community drug treatments and surveillance activities with COVID-19 protocols, such as making sure personal protective equipment was available. Wakesho also arranged extra meetings, involving complex logistics, to make sure schistosomiasis and STH activities would not conflict with other public health initiatives.

When schools were closed due to the pandemic, Wakesho and her team had to quickly pivot from providing treatment to students at school to organizing community gatherings to reach students and their families, which involved different logistics and resources.

“She is a really hard worker,” said Cara Tupps, Associate Director of Programs at The Task Force’s Children Without Worms program, which works with partners like Wakesho in both Kenya and Bangladesh to control STH.

“She is involved in coordinating many different people and tasks to make sure everything runs smoothly from beginning to end. She not only does a lot throughout the entire surveillance process, from sensitization to data reporting, and disseminating information to the county level. She is there from start to finish.”

An additional challenge in some communities, Wakesho said, is being a female leader in a male-dominated space.

“There are cultural issues in some communities where they do not respect female leadership,” she said.

“Men are highly valued and the ones who are considered to take leadership roles in the society. However, there is a gradual shift in these beliefs as the Government of Kenya is enforcing the two-thirds gender rule to ensure women are given more opportunities in the society. “

(The two-thirds gender rule states that not more than two-thirds of members elected into political offices in Kenya should be of the same gender.)

Wakesho draws inspiration from her mother, an artisan and community leader who did everything she could to make sure her daughter received an education. Wakesho is also highly inspired by her mentor Dr. Sultani Matendechero who has played a big role in sharpening her skills in order to deliver excellence in her work. Because of people like them and because of Wakesho, many Kenyans will be free from diseases like STH and schistosomiasis; and they will see first-hand what women leaders can do. 

Photos courtesy of Florence Wakesho and Cara Tupps.

Photos courtesy of Florence Wakesho and Cara Tupps.

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