In 2007, only 10 patients in the district of Neno in Malawi, Africa could receive antiretroviral therapy, treatment for the HIV virus and disease. However, only a few years later, two hospitals and 11 health clinics that serve 4500 patients have been established to offer HIV care to patients in Neno, thanks to the work of public health activist, Samson Njolomole.
On the evening of Tuesday, April 8 in Griffin 3, the Partners in Health (PIH) chapter at the College will be hosting Njolomole for a speech on his work in public health and human rights in his home country. Mr. Njolomole began working in 2007 at a PIH sister organization in Neno as a translator, but after noticing the sparseness of HIV care in his district, he began conducting a series of outreach campaigns regarding not only HIV testing but also health education.
Kirby Neuner ’15, community coordinator for the College chapter of PIH: Engage, has worked closely with Jenna Adams ’14, Michelle Higgins ’15 and Jordan Fields ’17 in establishing PIH: Engage, a new community outreach program run by PIH, at the College. So far this year, the 25 students of PIH: Engage has raised over $2000 through personal fundraising and a benefit dinner at Spice Root this past fall. In addition to Njolomole’s talk, PIH: Engage has begun work on other projects to be completed by the end of the year. The group’s Advocacy Team recently appealed to state representatives asking them to support the appropriation of Federal Budget funds dedicated to fighting childhood and maternal malnutrition around the world. The group will also be holding a “Strides for Solidarity” 5k, co-sponsored by the Neighborhood Leadership Team, in May. All funds raised by PIH: Engage at the College support PIH’s fight against multidrug resistant tuberculosis in Lesotho.
“We are honored to be hosting Mr. Njolomole,” Neuner said. “He has an incredible story. This event will appeal to an emerging interest in the Williams College Community, one evidenced by the recent approval of the Public Health concentration.”
PIH is a Boston-based global health organization founded by Ophelia Dahl and Dr. Paul Farmer, the subject of Tracy Kidder’s influential book, Mountains Beyond Mountains. Emphasizing their firm belief in “health as a human right,” Farmer and Dahl began their work in rural Haiti and have since expanded operations to countries around the world, including Malawi, Rwanda, Lesotho and Russia. The organization’s goal is to provide preferential options to people lacking medical care in some of the world poorest and most disease-stricken areas.
Neuner first heard of PIH by reading Mountains Beyond Mountains. “I fell in love with the organization and its commitment to social justice in the provision of healthcare,” he said.
This past September, Neuner participated in the PIH: Engage training institute in Boston, where he met Farmer and other members of the PIH National Team who laid out the plan for the newly conceived project. It aims to increase community involvement at colleges and universities around the United States through fundraising, advocacy and education about global health policy. Since the training institute in September, close to 40 PIH: Engage communities have been established in various locations around the country. “It requires passionate students committed to this cause, and we are lucky enough that Williams is filled with people like that,” Neuner said.