As a medical student, I worked with the measles vaccination campaign in Zaire, rounded with the medical team at Cayetano Heredia in Lima, and shouldered the task of running clinical labs on the wards of Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg. In all of those locations I learned about the importance of access to care and the power of medicine over disease. More recently I have been working in Mali, where other lessons are taught – lessons about the importance of action – taking action to prevent disease and improve human health.
In Mali, cattle still make their way slowly across the roads, with their long horns clearing the way in front of them, oblivious to the hurry and scurry of traffic. The lettuce and carrots grow in neat rows next to ditches full of rainwater. The mosquitoes are ferocious. Children are plentiful and playful. Whether in Bamako or in Providence, children have the same joy, the same sadness. The only difference it seems, is the particular patch of land. When they look at the sky, as the earth turns, Providence is there, on the other side, slowly turning too.
What have I learned in Mali? That change can happen. A young doctor doing his thesis in Bamako found out that one in five child deaths at the main hospital was due to a vaccine preventable illness, Haemophilus influenza B (HiB). He told the story to the health minister. She told it to the President. The President called the young doctor, listened to his story, and asked if there was a vaccine. When the doctor said yes, the president said, get it. Do it. Make it happen. And it did. The number of deaths from that disease is now near zero. That young doctor, a minister who took action, and a visionary president, saved tens of thousands of children all over Mali in the last few years. To which we can add – – The only true harm physicians and researchers can do is to not take an action that might save a life.
In Zaire, I learned firsthand about the power of vaccination against disease. In Mali, I have learned that change can happen, and that a single person has the power to make change. In Providence, I am applying those lessons. Our team at EpiVax is working on a medicine that will improve human health. Our goal? To take action to prevent disease, and to improve human health, everywhere.