Gillian McKay

Study program:
Public Health
Current affiliation:
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Gillian McKay (public health, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) is researching ways to provide safe maternal health services during infectious disease epidemics in post-conflict countries such as Sierra Leone.

Doctoral research

Using Anthropological Evidence to Inform Strategies to Ensure the Availability, Accessibility, and Uptake of Maternal Health Services During Epidemics of Infectious Disease

The 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic had massive ramifications on the health systems of three West African countries.  One important lesson to learn from this epidemic is how health systems in fragile states manage during the post-epidemic, recovery phase. The Sierra Leonean system suffered several assaults during the current epidemic, including the loss of healthcare workers from Ebola mortality and the closure of health facilities because of unsafe working conditions. Furthermore, public trust in healthcare services, and the willingness to access them, have declined because of perceptions that healthcare workers and facilities spread Ebola, and that health centres are places where people went to die or disappear.

Maternity care services were particularly impacted and continue to be affected in the post-Ebola period.  Using an anthropological approach, this research project seeks to gather evidence to inform policy to ensure that during future epidemics, maternal health services remain accessible and safe for pregnant women and healthcare workers.

Gillian McKay, MScPH, RN, is a doctor of public health candidate at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where she focuses on policy to support safe motherhood in times of epidemic crisis.  Gillian’s inspiration to take on this research topic came from her experience as a humanitarian worker during the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, when she worked in community and clinical settings supporting the response, and where she witnessed how the closure of health facilities devastated women’s right to access safe maternity care.

Gillian's passion for humanitarian action in fragile states has also been demonstrated through her work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Haiti, Malawi, Syria and Ethiopia. She has 8 years of experience working for NGOs and UN Agencies, where she supports formative research to enable evidence-informed and cross-sectoral programming in health, nutrition, water and sanitation, and gender.  Her work in these environments is always undertaken using a community empowerment, state capacity building and overall resilience approach. Gillian maintains her links to the field by continuing to volunteer for global maternal health causes and by teaching and mentoring humanitarian aid workers.

Active engagement with networks and communities of global health practice in Africa, Europe, and North America also allows Gillian to ensure that she contributes to research and policy in the fields of epidemic disease, maternal health, gender and human rights, and the health impacts of global trends including urbanization, migration, and climate change. In 2019 Gillian deployed with the World Health Organization to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to contribute to the Ebola response in the conflict zone of North Kivu.

Gillian holds a bachelor of science degree in nursing from the University of British Columbia and a master’s of science in public health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She has recently published work on community engagement in outbreaks, post-Ebola syndrome and the health needs of survivors, humanitarian worker moral distress, and behaviour change interventions in emergencies.