Giving Developing Nations Access to Vaccines
Saira Zaidi - Global Vaccine Market Shaping Expert at The Clinton Health Initiative
Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor. My father is a physician and my mom is a pharmacist. I never realized adults may not like their jobs because I had never heard my parents complain about going to work. That made me want pursue healthcare in college. When I started out, I had a hard time in some basic science classes. Organic chemistry was not my friend. It didn’t come easy to me so I would always wonder how I could succeed in STEM if I couldn’t do well in an intro class. It took me a while to learn that there are things in healthcare outside of your quintessential roles like medicine and pharmacy. The beauty of my journey was realizing that even though I struggled in classes, I was still able to have a successful career in STEM.
I ended up doing my undergrad in biology and anthropology, with a minor in Spanish, from Southern Methodist University in Texas with a full ride. Right after undergrad, I did my Master’s in public health at Berkeley, where I focused on infectious diseases. Public health combines my love for people and healthcare. I made a conscious decision to work for a consulting firm after grad school. This helped me acquire a skill set that enabled me to be more analytical and helped me to understand how to groom client relationships.
I now work at the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), where I focus on reducing the cost of delivering vaccines in developing countries. My role at CHAI started in Nigeria. People joke that if you can make something work in Nigeria, you can probably make it work anywhere else. It’s a large country with a population of 200 million and multi-dimensional challenges. I spent over a year in Nigeria trying to tackle some of these challenges. My time away meant that I would have a long-distance relationship with my husband, friends and family back in the US. My husband I had discussed that if I wanted to work in health at a global scale it would take going abroad, and we both wanted our marriage to be one of support rather than a hindrance. I loved my experience but struggled with building a community back home in San Francisco. Even after coming back, I felt like I was not fully integrated at home. I still travel a lot and even though that is a choice I make because I love my job and want to do well in my career, it can sometimes put me on the road for three weeks at a time. I didn’t realize that missing small things like birthdays and Friday night hangouts would matter so much. It’s those casual moments that build strong friendships and missing out on them can really suck. I started a Lean In group with a bunch of women across different fields to combat this struggle. This circle has helped me develop a close group of friends while maintaining a hectic travel schedule.
My work now takes me to Geneva and Copenhagen, where I figure out how to deploy vaccine equipment. A lot of the time, the equipment to transport and maintain vaccines is built for first world countries and I have to find ways to make it affordable for developing nations. It takes over $150 to fully vaccinate a child in the US and we’ve gotten that cost down to a little over $30 in many developing countries. I also spend time in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia to implement deployment strategies. I am really happy to be in a role where I can make a global impact in healthcare, realizing now that had I let a few bad grades in organic chem keep me from my passion for helping people, I wouldn’t be here today.