Assistant Professor
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Office: 541-737-7870

Waldo Hall

Waldo Hall 228

2250 SW Jefferson Way

2250 SW Jefferson Way
Corvallis, OR 97331
Ph.D. Emory University, 2010
B.A. University of California, Santa Barbara, 2002
Curriculum Vitae: 

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Affiliated with: 
Research/Career Interests: 

Research Interests: 

Global Health and Development, Primary Health Care, Community Health Workers, Health Systems Strengthening, Food Insecurity, Water Insecurity, Mental Health, Maternal and Child Health, HIV/AIDS, Religion, Morality, and Ritual

Geographical Areas: 

Ethiopia, Sub-Saharan Africa, North America

I am a biocultural medical anthropologist interested in links between health workers, health policy, and health outcomes. The persistent lack of health workers in contexts of poverty points to important connections between population health, politics, and society. I focus on lay health workers who engage in healthcare, community organizing, and advocacy at the community level, both inside and outside of clinics and hospitals. Community Health Workers or CHWs are thought to be uniquely capable of improving health and reducing suffering through their intimate relationships with community members. But around the world, many community health workers live in poverty, are poorly compensated, and lack secure employment. According to the model of partnership that guides many of today’s global health initiatives, wealthy institutions provide drugs, medical technologies, and well-paid experts, while poor countries are expected to provide cheap labor. Government and non-governmental health organizations are often unable or unwilling to provide better job conditions for CHWs.  I am particularly interested in how helping community health workers achieve greater influence over health policies and the conditions of their own employment may have positive effects on their own well-being and on the health of their communities. I also study how global health institutions and local communities negotiate the quantity and quality of available community health worker jobs, and on how health workers, policy makers, and communities build solidarity and shared goals.

Since 2006, my research has focused on CHWs in Ethiopia. Using data from surveys, participant observation, and in-depth interviews, my colleagues and I have shown that people become CHWs partly because they seek to uphold values of humble service to others in need. But people also hope that becoming a CHW will help them achieve freedom from economic insecurity within their own households.  The research I conducted in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, during the 2007-8 global food crisis revealed that many CHWs experience moderate to severe household food insecurity, and that food insecurity is strongly associated with increased levels of psychological distress.  From 2012 to 2016 I was Co-Principal Investigator (with Svea Closser, Middlebury College) on a research project funded by the National Science Foundation, focusing on Ethiopia's rural cadres of paid and unpaid CHWs, known as Health Extension Workers and Women's Development Army leaders, respectively. This project also focused on the well-being of the health workers themselves, and their relationships with the communities they serve and the global institutions that rely on them.

Most recently, I have become an active member of the Oregon Community Health Worker Consortium, serving on the Research Team to advance our understanding of CHWs and the challenges they face here in Oregon.

Prior to joining OSU, I was a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University’s Population Studies & Training Center, an interdisciplinary demography center specializing in the study of population, health and development.

Recent projects



Assessing Oregon health system actors' willingness to partner with community health workers to address social determinants of health


Developing common metrics for evaluating community health worker programs in the U.S.


The Women’s Development Army in rural Ethiopia: discourses and experiences of health worker status, motivation, and well-being.


Examining the effects of polio eradication efforts on routine immunization and primary health care in Ethiopia. 


Socio-demographic predictors and psycho-social outcomes of health care volunteering among youth in Jimma, Ethiopia.


Water insecurity and psychological distress among women in South Gondar, Ethiopia.


Food Insecurity, well-being and motivations among volunteer HIV/AIDS caregivers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Working with graduate students

I am very interested to work with graduate students who question the intersections between health and society, and the roles of health workers in reducing health inequalities and poverty.  I am also interested to mentor graduate students who aim to study the implementation of innovative practices and protocols in health care and social service settings, using structured ethnographic methods within randomized controlled trials and other "experimental" programs to illuminate the social, hierarchical, and cultural factors that influence outcomes of interest to professionals, policymakers, and publics.

In recent years, graduate students working with me have been involved in projects in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and the United States, and have received research funding from the National Science Foundation’s Cultural Anthropology Program, and from the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund.  I have served on the committees of numerous public health (MPH) and anthropology (MA, PhD) graduate students.

I currently serve as the main advisor for the following OSU Anthropology graduate students:

PhD: Yihenew Tesfaye, Jamie Petts

MA: Cristòf, Massarra Eiwaz, Micknai Arefaine


Public Anthropology

In 2017, I was honored to deliver the keynote address and lead a discussion of community health workers as agents of social change at the 2nd annual Kansas Community Health Worker Symposium.

In 2015, I was invited to deliver a live webinar by the Oregon Health Authority Office of Equity and Inclusion, entitled “What can we learn from community health workers in low-income countries? Perspectives from rural Ethiopia.”

In 2013, I was interviewed by reporter Amy Costello for her “Tracking Charity” series, which is produced by Public Radio International’s program The WorldClick here to listen and view the story.

In 2009, the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at Emory University helped me produce a short YouTube video that provides an overview of my research with AIDS care volunteers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Click here to view.




2017.  Maes, Kenneth.  The Lives of Community Health Workers: Local Labor and Global Health in Urban EthiopiaRoutledge.

Journal Issues (guest edited)

2015. Maes, Kenneth.  Community Health Workers and Social Change: Global and Local Perspectives. Annals of Anthropological Practice 39(1).


For a complete list of publications, see my Google Scholar page or click on my CV above.



Cross-Cultural Health & Healing (ANTH 574)

Anthropology and Global Health (ANTH 374)

Peoples of the World: Africa (ANTH 315)

Human Adaptability (ANTH 442/542)

Neuroanthropology (ANTH 461/561)

Nutritional Anthropology (ANTH 444/544)

Human Osteology Laboratory (ANTH 443/543)