Pamela Yih’s background in pharmacy and dealing with patients suffering from noncommunicable diseases has prepared her for her current role as both CFO and a board member of Arogya World. Her friendship with Arogya’s CEO Nalini Saligram motivated her to get on board with the cause of preventing NCDs around the globe. Here is her story:
Tell me about your role in Arogya World and how you got involved.
You cannot say no to Nalini. I knew her all the way back to the late 1990s, when she had first shared with me her desire to start a nonprofit organization to combat noncommunicable diseases. She got me excited whenever she would speak about it because she spoke with so much passion, and I was honored when she asked me to join as a board member. I was excited to work with her on what I think is a very good cause. It gives me an opportunity to give back, and being involved has been immensely rewarding. I am especially honored to be working alongside a great board of women colleagues. We have had wonderful consultants who believe in our cause and have been blessed with wonderful donors who provide us financial support. I’ve been like a proud parent watching Arogya World grow.
How has your experience shaped your understanding of NCDs?
My background is as a pharmacist. Throughout my entire career, I have been involved in healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry. I was very involved with the family practice and the oncology clinics while I was on the faculty at the University of Nebraska College of Pharmacy, where I saw people with NCDs like high blood pressure and diabetes. I knew about NCDs and how difficult it was to manage them even back then. NCDs are not like cancer or HIV/AIDS where you’re faced with death. High blood pressure and high cholesterol is silent. We are faced with challenges of patient compliance and patients develop the complications of high blood pressure and diabetes such as heart attack, strokes, kidney disease and blindness, when it is too late.
How has the conversation on NCDs changed since you started out in your career?
Initially, talking to people about losing weight and quitting smoking was difficult and it took a lot of money. Now, technology has changed how we can address NCD awareness and prevention for less money and have a much broader reach. Also, there is now a trend where you see younger people interested in their health and well-being. Not to mention, everyone has a family member who has an NCD. There are definitely more opportunities now to address NCDs.
Additionally, the economic impact of NCDs are even more well understood and there is heightened awareness by global organizations, such as the United Nations and governments on a national and local level to begin tackling NCDs on a public health level. We are seeing the positive impact of public-private partnerships and the use of modern technology to improve health outcomes. There is still a lot of work to be done, but we are definitely going in the right direction.
How has Arogya World changed the conversation on NCD prevention?
Arogya World has been able to change the conversation on NCD prevention because we are doing something unique. Not only do we have our two-pronged approach in addressing the issue on a global advocacy level and through an on-the-ground approach at the local level, but we are taking our programs through a multi-level community approach directly to where people learn and work.
Importantly, we’ve taken our message to the appropriate targets, and we educate people at a young age where it will make an impression like with our Healthy Schools Program. We’ve taken our message to companies and it’s not only the people working at the companies who get involved, but the companies themselves. NCDs have a strong negative economic impact for the companies and we are providing them tools to create healthy workplaces and now we are helping our healthy Workplace Platinum companies to establish metrics and collect data.
What Nalini has recognized is also the importance of women when it comes to preventing NCDs. Women are important influencers in what they feed their families. We tend to be caregivers of family members with NCDs. We have shown that through our landmark “10,000 Women Survey on the Impact of NCDs on Women” that has stimulated dialogue at the global advocacy level. Arogya World will be implementing our MyThali icon, similar in concept to MyPlate icon in the U.S.
Importantly, we have shown that our strong science-based program in India can be scaled up and I am very excited that Arogya World will be bringing our multi-level community approaches to the South Asian community in the U.S., starting in Chicago.
Pamela Yih was interviewed by Arogya World Fellow Mallika Rao