NAIROBI: When Dr Peter Cherutich was awarded the 2015 Gilbert S. Omenn Award for Academic Excellence at the University of Washington School of Public Health, he put Kenya on the map for his academic prowess and received a standing ovation after delivering his acceptance speech.
The Deputy Director of Medical Services at the Ministry of Health was undertaking the Doctoral Programme in Global Health: Metrics and Implementation Science at the US based university and he emerged as the sole recipient of the doctorate degree.
Dr Cherutich emerged top in a class of over a thousand students due to his dissertation that explored efforts in data collation and management on HIV prevention interventions as well as incidence and patient survival rate on the African continent. The award and recognition followed one that the same University gave him in May 2014 recognising him as an outstanding PhD student in the Department of Global Health.
In 2013, Dr Cherutich received award of the Order of the Grand Warrior from President Uhuru Kenyatta for his exemplary performance as secretary and coordinator of the Kenya Coordinating Mechanisms for the Global Fund and for leading Kenya’s efforts to expand male circumcision services.
Despite these achievements, Dr Cherutich is a humble man whose heart-beat is to see medical challenges that bedevil our continent become a thing of the past.
“I feel empowered, sharpened and reconfigured and I am ready to go into the world of global health to make a difference,” he said during a visit to our offices for an interview.
Dr Cherutich, who hails from Baringo County, said he owes his success to hard work and his education’s solid foundation right from primary school.
“I went to Tandui Primary School, a village school in Baringo and herding livestock was part of my duties after school. The 8-4-4 education system had just been introduced during that time and we received new teachers in the school which brought with it great competition.
I did well in my KCPE and was ranked 85th nationally. I was proud to put my school on the national map,” he said.
He joined Kabarak High School where once again he applied himself and scored an A- (minus) in KCSE which led to his admittance to University of Nairobi in 1993 for a first degree in Medicine and Surgery.
“The idea to become a medical doctor was first borne while I was in secondary school. Lecturers from various institutions were frequently invited to the school to give talks and this is when the idea to pursue medicine was conceived,” he said.
Dr Cherutich later proceeded to do a post graduate diploma in methodology of clinical research in University of Paris before joining the University of Washington for a Masters degree in Public Health.
The medic, who recently returned to the country, said he will apply his acquired skills in the health ministry adding he is keen to provide innovative solutions to the country’s emerging non-communicable disease burden.
“Because of changes in demographics, Kenya is beginning to witness increases in diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, which no one is really paying attention to,” he said.
He continues to have special focus on HIV/Aids perhaps borne from his tenure as programme manager, male circumcision, National Aids/STD Control Programme from 2007 to 2010 where he, among other engagements, helped formulate policies and guidelines for male circumcision.
“We managed to engage non-circumcised communities to accept male circumcision and assembled public sector teams, and non-governmental organisations to deliver the largest male circumcision programme in Africa,” he says.
The founding chairman of the Public Health Society of Kenya expressed joy that Kenya was one of the first countries to adopt an intervention on medical male circumcision as recommended by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations.
He said the strategies put in place during his tenure led to the circumcision of nearly 800,000 men between 2008 and 2012.
Dr Cherutich says Kenya has a lot of potential adding that his desire is to motivate young people so they can follow his path and excel in global health.
“I would want to support my country in order to be prepared for any challenge that comes along like the Ebola epidemic and other global emergencies. I also hope to participate in improving the health of our people and those of the African continent,” he said.