I am a faculty member of the Anthropology program within the School of Language, Culture & Society. I am also an adjunct faculty member in Global Health, Public Policy, and Humanitarian Engineering at Oregon State. 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.
The CHW Common Indicators Project: 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.
Water insecurity and psychological distress among women in Amhara, Ethiopia.
Examining the effects of polio eradication efforts on routine immunization and primary health care in Ethiopia.
Food Insecurity, well-being and motivations among volunteer HIV/AIDS caregivers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Health Equity, Global Health, Community Health Workers, Health Systems, Food Insecurity, Water Insecurity, Mental Health, Maternal and Child Health, Religion, Morality, and Ritual
United States, Ethiopia
As an applied anthropologist, I participate in a broad coalition of allies focused on achieving health equity, especially through enhancing the working conditions of community health workers.
As a biocultural medical anthropologist, I'm primarily interested in the determinants and outcomes of the massive lack of effective health workers in contexts of poverty, particularly health workers who understand the lives, dignity, and power of marginalized communities.
My colleagues and I are particularly passionate about community health workers or CHWs: women and men who provide primary healthcare, organize communities, and advocate for health equity, in clinics and in their communities. CHWs, because of their intimate relationships with community members, are thought to be uniquely capable of improving health and reducing suffering in vulnerable populations. But around the world, many community health workers face insecure employment and are paid at levels that keep them in poverty. I focus on answering a range of questions through a mix of ethnography, survey, and other methodologies:
How do CHWs bring about impacts on population health
at the individual level (helping people get well)?
at the structural level (organizing communities to change and resist harmful policies and practices)?
Why are community health workers suffering from forms of psychosocial distress?
How do CHWs and allies organize, build coalitions, and conduct research and evaluation?
How do big institutions -- governments, NGOs, think tanks, donors, and foundations -- structure the quantity and quality of available community health worker jobs?
My collaborators and I use ethnographic methods to forefront the voices of CHWs as they narrate their emotional and social labor , including their work with marginalized people and their efforts to organize communities and convince employers and other health system actors to change policies that stifle their power and effectiveness. We aim to document the ways in which CHWs build relationships with stigmatized people, reconcile family disputes, confront death, challenge forms of discrimination, and pressure authority figures. This kind of care work is crucial to our wellbeing and massively undervalued within modern health systems.
We also use a mix of methods to illuminate the forms of distress and deprivation that CHWs experience. This aspect of our work has shown that large numbers of CHWs face chronically insecure access to basic resources including land, food, and water, which generate forms of psychological suffering that well paid and empowered health workers do not have to face.
To learn more about my current work in the U.S., check out this blog post and this website hosted by the Michigan Community Health Workers Alliance.
To learn more about my earlier work in Ethiopia, check out this story from Public Radio International and this short YouTube video. You can also check out my commentary in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization and these reviews of my recent book, The Lives of Community Health Workers.
Another area of collaborative research in which I’m involved targets the daily lack of access to water experienced by people around the world. My colleagues and I are interested in understanding the political, cultural and ecological determinants of water insecurity, and demonstrating the multiple negative impacts of water insecurity on individual and social wellbeing. My former doctoral student Dr. Yihenew Tesfaye and I recently teamed up with a diverse array of colleagues to develop and apply measures of household water insecurity across the globe.
Working with students
I'm interested to work with students who question the intersections between health and society, with a focus on health workers, food and water insecurity, mental health, and social wellbeing.
I'm interested in working with diverse students who have traditionally faced social, economic, and linguistic barriers to achieving college degrees in the US. I've mentored undergraduate and graduate students at OSU through an array of projects involving multiple methodologies in diverse geographical contexts. And I've served on the committees of numerous public health (MPH), anthropology (MA, PhD), and engineering (MS) graduate students.
In recent years, graduate students working with me have received research and writing support from the National Science Foundation’s Cultural Anthropology Program, the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund, the OSU President’s Commission on the Status of Women, the OSU URSA Engage Program, the OSU Diversity Advancement Pipeline Fellowship, and the OSU Provost Fellowship. I am committed to assisting students in their quests to finance their research and degrees.
I want to support DACA Dreamers who are interested in graduate or undergraduate anthropology or liberal arts education. Oregon State University provides a variety of resources to support undocumented and DACAmented students.
2017. Maes, Kenneth. The Lives of Community Health Workers: Local Labor and Global Health in Urban Ethiopia. Routledge.
2015. Maes, Kenneth. Community Health Workers and Social Change: Global and Local Perspectives. Annals of Anthropological Practice 39(1).
In Press Wiggins, N., K. Maes, G. Palmisano, L. Rodriguez Avila, K. Rodela, and E. Kieffer. "A Community Participatory Approach to Identify Common Evaluation Indicators for Community Health Worker Practice." Progress in Community Health Partnerships.
2020 George, R., R. Gunn, N. Wiggins, R. Rowland, M.M. Davis, K. Maes, A. Kuzma, and A.J. McConnell. "Early Lessons and Strategies from Statewide Efforts to Integrate Community Health Workers into Medicaid." Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.
2020 Tesfaye, Y., K. Maes, R. Abesha, S. Young, J.S. Snyder, A. Gebremariam, and M.C. Freeman. "How Do Rural Ethiopians Rate the Severity of Water Insecurity Scale Items? Implications for Water Insecurity Measurement and Interventions." Human Organization.
2019 Maes, K., S. Closser, Y. Tesfaye, and R. Abesha. "Psychosocial distress among unpaid community health workers in rural Ethiopia: Comparing leaders in Ethiopia's Women's Development Army to their peers." Social Science & Medicine.
2018 Maes, K., S Closser, Y. Tesfaye, Y. Gilbert, and R. Abesha. "Volunteers in Ethiopia's Womens' Development Army are more deprived and distress than their peers: cross-sectional survey data from rural Ethiopia." BMC Public Health.
2017 Closser, S, A. Rosenthal, J. Justice, K. Maes, M. Sultan, S. Banerji, H. Banteyerga, R. Gopinath, P. Omidian, and L. Nyirazinyoye. “Per Diems in Polio Eradication: Perspectives from Community Health Workers and Officials.” American Journal of Public Health.
2015 Maes, K., Svea Closser, Ethan Vorel, and Yihenew Tesfaye. “Using Community Health Workers: Discipline and Hierarchy in Ethiopia’s Women’s Development Army.” Annals of Anthropological Practice 39(1): 42-57.
2014 Maes, K., S. Closser, and I. Kalofonos. “Listening to community health workers: How ethnographic research can inform positive relationships between CHWs, health institutions, and communities.” American Journal of Public Health 104(5): e5-e9.
2013 Maes, K. and Ippolytos Kalofonos. “Becoming community health workers: Perspectives from Ethiopia and Mozambique.” Social Science & Medicine 87: 52-59.
2012 Maes, K. “Volunteerism or labor exploitation? Harnessing and sustaining the volunteer spirit for AIDS treatment programs in urban Ethiopia.” Human Organization 71(1): 54-64.
2012 Stevenson, E.G.J., L. Greene, K. Maes, A. Ambelu, Y. Tesfaye, C. Hadley, and R. Rheingans. “Water insecurity in three dimensions: An anthropological perspective on water and women’s psychosocial distress in Ethiopia.” Social Science & Medicine 75: 392-400.
2010 Maes, K., C. Hadley, F. Tesfaye, and S. Shifferaw. "Food Insecurity and Mental Health: Surprising Trends among Community Health Volunteers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during the 2008 Food Crisis." Social Science & Medicine, 70(9): 1450-1457.
2010 Maes, K. "Examining Health-Care Volunteerism in a Food- and Financially-Insecure World." Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 88(11): 867-869.
For a complete list of publications, see my Google Scholar page.
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)