Skip Navigation


Vicki MacDonald, MPH '02

Vicki MacDonald

Alumna Forges USAID Partnerships to Harness Private Sector for Public Health

AS A NEW MPH STUDENT at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2000, Vicki MacDonald’s résumé included a master’s in economic development from American University and 20 years of experience with USAID. She managed projects that provided rural medical assistance training to community health workers in Mauritania, advanced health and family planning programs in Jordan, and developed US-Asia Environmental Partnerships in Indonesia.

MacDonald applied nowhere else but the Bloomberg School, given its unbeatable strengths in international and child health. After learning from giants in the field such as Gil Burnham and Keith West, she gained the broad perspective and problem-solving skills that would be critical for implementing USAID projects. After graduating, she kept seeing Bloomberg School faculty like West and Jim Tielsch at conferences, and seized the opportunity to ask them for advice. She also maintained her connection with the school by making a gift annually, and has given for 13 years running.

MacDonald spent the final phase of her career as a senior associate in the International Health Division at Abt Associates, a global research and policy consulting firm based in Bethesda, Maryland, that focuses on health, social and environmental policy, and international development.

In 2005, Abt Associates joined the global effort to prevent child mortality from diarrhea and pneumonia by working through USAID-funded programs to expand access to appropriate treatments through private sector channels. Since 2010, MacDonald has been an active member of the Diarrhea and Pneumonia Working Group (DPWG) of the UN Commission on Lifesaving MCH Commodities, a global coordinating body composed of a wide swath of donors, NGOs, and development agencies from the public and private sectors.

At DPWG meetings, MacDonald often encountered her classmate, Christa Fischer Walker, PhD ’05 with Walker’s mentor, renowned zinc expert Robert Black, who “were very helpful and had the deep technical backgrounds to help me implement the programs I was working on.” Walker said of MacDonald, “Vicki is a great advocate for child survival, working tirelessly to ensure key diarrhea and pneumonia treatment interventions reach children in desperate need.  She has spent years supporting programs in the field and brings an important practical side to research and policy discussions.”

The DPWG aims to achieve treatment coverage of 60 to 80 percent of children under five in 10 high-burden countries that account for more than 60 percent of global diarrhea and pneumonia cases in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. One of the strategies that MacDonald led in developing was demand creation for promoting zinc/ORS treatment for diarrhea management in children under five years old.

Social marketing sells your product—we make sure mothers know about the product so they can use it. We use TV and radio ads, as well as personal contact through chat and self-help groups to reach mothers with information on new diarrhea treatments.

Vicki MacDonald

One of her most important roles was as Child Health Advisor and head of the diarrhea management program for Strengthening Health Outcomes through the Private Sector (SHOPS), USAID’s flagship initiative to involve private non-profit and for-profit entities in addressing needs for family planning, HIV prevention, and child health in developing countries. MacDonald met with Peter Winch to discuss how he formulated his questionnaire on diarrhea management in Mali, and used it as a model for developing the initial household survey instruments to measure the impact of diarrhea management programs on caregiver behaviors in USAID projects. This instrument has been used in nine countries.

Another key SHOPS country is Ghana, where 1 in 5 children typically has diarrhea, and 40 percent of affected children receive only home treatment or none at all, which may result in severe dehydration and death. Working in partnership with the Ghana Health Service, local pharmaceutical manufacturers, and the Pharmacy Council, MacDonald oversaw the SHOPS initiative to promote zinc to treat pediatric diarrheas through private sector channels. The program focused on training private providers in new diarrhea management protocols and ensuring that they had quality, affordable products for their customers.

Our vision for the future in Ghana is that all providers and caregivers know that zinc and ORS are an effective, affordable treatment, and that the supply chain continues to provide quality, affordable products to save children’s lives.

Vicki MacDonald

MacDonald also oversaw the launch of a 2012 mass media campaign with the Ghana Health Service that targeted 8 million people to raise awareness among caregivers about new national diarrhea treatment guidelines recommending the use of both zinc and oral rehydration salts. SHOPS collaborated with the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs’ Behavioral Change Support Project in Ghana to create an effective diarrhea-related TV ad.  In addition, SHOPS created a short video highlighting the program’s accomplishments, which include training 9,000 medicine sellers and increasing monthly sales of ORS treatment kits from 8,000 to 150,000 in just one year. Abt Associates and USAID then extended this program model to Nigeria and Uganda.

After recently retiring from Abt Associates, MacDonald is now applying the public health foundation she acquired at the Bloomberg School as a Humanitarian Service missionary for the LDS Church, helping to implement the Church’s signature assistance programs—clean water, vision, wheelchairs for the poor and disabled, and maternal and neonatal health— in Vietnam. She and her husband are enjoying “working on the ground with local groups. We understand the process, even the bureaucracy, which is helping us develop new projects and manage the partnerships with key organizations that focus on the poor and needy. As part of a vision project on diabetic retinopathy, we’ve identified champions at a hospital in the Mekong delta who can help us to disseminate the program down to the local level.”

By learning from public health “rock stars” at the Bloomberg School and continuing to cultivate new champions in the private sector, Vicki MacDonald has become a public health champion in her own right.