Indian-American appointed to lead President’s Malaria Initiative

Raj Panjabi from Last Mile Health at Skoll World Forum 2017

Dr. Raj Panjabi, a Harvard professor and co-founder and former CEO of Last Mile Health, an organization that helps build rural health systems, was appointed by President Joe Biden as his  Malaria Coordinator to lead the President’s Malaria Initiative. He was sworn in Feb. 1, 2021.

Dr. Panjabi, who was born in Monrovia, Liberia, served as a physician and medical professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital. He co-founded Last Mile Health, considered a global leader in rural community health systems, in 2007, and stepped down recently as its CEO.

The President’s Malaria Initiative, PMI, is led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and co-implemented with the Centers for Disease Control. It was launched in 2005 with the goal of reducing malaria-related mortality by 50 percent across 15 high-burden countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Today PMI is engaged in 24 high-burden countries in sub-Saharan Africa and in the Greater Mekong Subregion of Southeast Asia. The program has helped save millions of lives and prevented more than one billion cases of malaria, according to the organization on its website.

“I’m grateful for this chance to serve,” Panjabi tweeted.

The United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, also an Indian-American, congratulated Panjabi in a tweet.  “So proud of you Raj and so grateful for your service. The world is lucky to have your leadership once again,” Dr. Murthy said.

“My family and I arrived in America 30 years ago after fleeing civil war in Liberia. A community of Americans rallied around my family to help us build back our lives. It’s an honor to serve the country that helped build back my own life as part of the Biden-Harris Administration,” Dr. Panjabi went on to say in a series of reflections on taking on the appointment.

“I’m privileged to serve with and learn from the teams @PMIgov, @USAID, @CDCGov and our partners. Together, we will fight malaria. We will save lives. We will build health systems. And, together, we will work to eliminate malaria once and for all,” he said.

“I’ve seen how @PMIgov and its partners have responded, with resolve, in the countries where it operates. I’ve seen the relief on the faces of parents whose children survived malaria because they were treated with medicines and by health workers backed by its support,” Dr. Panjabi went on to tweet.

“As it is for many of my colleagues, this mission is personal for me. My grandparents and parents were infected with malaria while living in India. As a child in Liberia, I fell sick with malaria, and as a doctor serving in Africa, I have seen this disease take too many lives,” he said.

“As a doctor and public health professional that has cared for patients alongside staff @PMIgov, @USAID, and @CDCgov and our partners, I’ve been inspired by how they’ve responded to fight malaria, one of the oldest and deadliest pandemics, and saved lives around the world,” he noted.

“In the face of unprecedented crises, I am humbled by the challenges our country and our world faces to build back better. But as I have learned in America: we are not defined by the conditions we face, we are defined by how we respond,” Dr. Panjabi said.

Panjabi has received numerous awards and accolades during his career. He has authored or co-authored more than 50 publications. Apart from serving in various capacities helping the World Health Organization, Panjabi was named by TIME as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, and one of the 50 Most Influential People in Healthcare.

Fortune magazine listed him as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. He has received the TED Prize, the Clinton Global Citizen Award, the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, among others.

He graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and primary care at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He is also a Master of Public Health in epidemiology from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School.




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