Interview Executive Director Mustapha Gidado

He speaks passionate, articulated, and with emphasis on every word. Meet with Dr. Mustapha Gidado and you will get his clear vision on any subject in TB control. The new Executive Director of the KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation brings 22 years of experience to the table. We talked with him about his motivation, career, KNCV and his view on the international fight against TB.

Gidado succeeds Kitty van Weezenbeek, who switched to the WHO on 1st May. Gidado has since held the position of interim director. He previously served as director of the KNCV-led and USAID-funded Challenge TB Project (2015 – 2020). For his position, Gidado moved from his native Nigeria to The Netherlands in 2017. Previously, he worked as a country director for KNCV in Nigeria (2012-2017), after an extensive career at the National Tuberculosis & Leprosy Training Center in Zaria.

You live in The Hague (Netherlands) where KNCVs was established in 1903. Can we do this interview in Dutch?
Gidado (in English): “No I’m sorry. My Dutch is not sufficient for that. My aim is to get to the level of being able to hold civil conversations. I will be working on it!”

You started as a clinical TB doctor in Zaria (Nigeria). Why did you choose a career in TB control?
Before graduating medical school in 1997, as medical students, we all must take two weeks posting at a rural TB & Leprosy hospital as part of our curriculum. I found myself at the notational TB & Leprosy hospital Zaria, a poorly maintained facility but with 100% bed occupancy with TB & Leprosy patients and a highly motivated and enthusiastic doctor (Gani Alabi) caring for these patients despite all challenges. When I had to do my National Youth Service, I asked to work and serve under him – that was the deciding moment of my career in TB work till today. I worked in the same facility for over 14 years with increasing responsibilities for the National TB & Leprosy Control Program in Nigeria.

Can you give an example of such an experience?
“My thoughts still often go to a young 18-year old tailor. He was mismanaged and received wrong treatment. As a result, he was on treatment and not cured for four years. His lungs were destroyed and he developed multi-drug resistant TB. In 2005 he came to us in Zaria and stayed on an individual ward for a year. Through donations we could purchase the right drugs for him. We eventually lost him. He passed away because his lungs were too damaged.
Too many people do not receive the right treatment on time. That motivates me for this work. We have to make sure this doesn’t happen to any more patients.”

Why did you opt for a secondment from Government to KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation?
I have received and interacted with many technical partners including KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation. I did realize that despite the same good intention, we (Government staff and NGO’s) see and act differently in ensuring quality TB services to our patients. Therefore, in 2012 I made up my mind. After such a long time working for the government, I wanted to work for an international development partner. I found it important to create a more common understanding between both perspectives to ensure a need-based support and sustainability of NGOs/partners approaches under the umbrella of the government health system. I am pleased to say, that guided my work for the KNCV-led and USAID-funded projects (TB CARE I and Challenge TB).

In its 117 year old history, you are the first non-Dutch executive director of KNCV. How important is the history of the organization?
The work that KNCV did and does in the Netherlands, is inspirational. TB control here is at the point of elimination. The system is watertight with an excellent surveillance system,
contact investigation, access to rapid diagnostics, and quality nursing support for all patients on care. With that experience and expertise, KNCV has supported many TB high burden countries for decades and one of the guiding principles was capacity building & transfer. I think I am a testimony to this guiding principle, a recipient of KNCV Technical Assistance, then employed as technical staff at country level and given the opportunity to grow to this current position.

What is your goal for KNCV?
I see KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation as a global network of organizations with many national and local NGOs working together with complementary strength to end TB and to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. Guided by innovation, evidence generation, and health system strengthening as game-changer for TB prevention and care.

Do you believe you will see the end of TB in your career? Or in your lifetime?
“I hope TB ends while I’m alive. In the very near future, I think the TB epidemic can be well controlled. That is possible only through universal access to TB services that is mainstream into the general health systems. A vaccine would be the overall game changer to eliminate TB. Until then, ensuring a point of care TB test, shorter duration of treatment, and access to preventive treatment should be the goal.”

On a more personal note: as Executive Director you will continue living in the Netherlands. How is this for your family?
“My wife and our four children moved here with me in 2017. They are now 18, 15, 13 and 6 years old and go to the international school in The Hague. Although we miss Nigeria, they enjoy it a lot to be here. They have more freedom than in Nigeria, where we used to have to drive them everywhere. Here they all have their bicycles and actually bike to school most times. It’s a very different and valuable experience for them and for us.”

KNCV has been fighting TB since its establishment in 1903. Over the past 120 years, the organization has acquired indispensable knowledge and experience in the field of effective TB prevention and care, resulting in pre-elimination in the Netherlands and significant contributions to global evidence generation, policy development and TB program implementation worldwide.

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