Public Health: Niraj Shrestha

Niraj Shrestha: Master of Public Health, 2015. Learning and Communications Expert at Abt Associates, Nepal.

Photo of Niraj Shrestha

Niraj Shrestha graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2015 with a Master of Public Health (MPH). He currently works in health communications in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Niraj works for Abt Associates as a Learning and Communications expert under the DFID Portfolio Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning programme (PMEL). Based in Kathmandu, his primary role is to support strategic learning objectives and knowledge management efforts under the programme.

For Niraj, his passion for health communications stems from two formative experiences. Growing up in remote parts of Nepal in the 90s, radio was the most popular medium of mass communication. “I used to be fascinated by the voice emanating from this device called ‘radio’” he recalls, and this sparked his interest in communications. He also cites the loss of his father at the age of 16, and his premature death due to complications associated with Type II Diabetes Mellitus pushed him to think about ways to help prevent such unnatural deaths.

“The amalgamation of the childhood attraction towards radio and unfathomable loss during my youth catapulted my interest in health communication. Further, the opportunity to work as a radio broadcaster for Radio Nepal, a Government-funded broadcasting agency, provided me with the impetus to pursue health communications.”

Niraj’s unique perspective on the public health sector also explains his current career trajectory. “One of the first things I learned in public health is that it is both a science and an art, and I love the art aspect of it more because I am interested in the art of storytelling.”  The ability of the communicator or the medium of communication to draw attention towards stories of people and interventions in public health is a source of empowerment for Niraj.

Niraj commenced his career in public health in 2011, and by 2013 he had set his sights on the University of Melbourne to study his Master of Public Health. Through the Asian Development Bank-Japan Scholarship Program, he was offered a prestigious scholarship to study in Melbourne. Reflecting on his drive at University, Niraj remarks that “Coming from Nepal, the opportunity to study in a premier academic institution like the University of Melbourne was enough of a motivation.  It was indeed a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wanted to make the best use of my time there. It certainly motivated me to learn as much as I could and pick subjects that would allow me to make a meaningful contribution back home in Nepal.”

A distinct highlight of his University experience was the opportunity to meet students from across the globe and learn about their individual careers and lived experiences. Niraj found this eye-opening and enriching, valuing the opportunity to understand the unique thought process of diverse people. His advice for current students builds on this, as he encourages them to “discuss the thought process behind the answers that fellow students have produced in an assignment.  Whenever I felt there could not be more ways to answer a question, I realized that there were several more ways available to answer it meaningfully. Hence this exposure helps to broaden one’s thinking.”

“My experiences at the University of Melbourne taught me something very unexpected. I started the MPH course in 2014 believing that I would be able to learn what to think, instead I ended up learning how to think by the end of 2015.”

Niraj will continue to help develop the infrastructures that support the projection of messages promoting health, whether that be scientific papers, newspaper articles or virtual engagement methods. His work supports a vital factor in the public health equation and connects meaningfully with the people of Nepal. In a global pandemic, the importance of delivering accurate and timely information is more crucial than ever.

With his expertise in communications and his drive to elevate public health, Niraj has worked with fellow alum Dr Krishna Paudel to create a video highlighting the vital COVID-19 work of the Kanti Children’s Hospital in Nepal. This touching story underlines the unique challenges faced by frontline workers in the only government-run children’s hospital in the country.