At the age of 13, Jonathan Kumi Aboagye lost a beloved elder sister to sickle cell disease. The loss left the Ghanaian teen with two things— emptiness in his heart and a mission in his life.
“I could not bring my sister back to life, but I knew that not everything had gone right for her medically,’’ he said. “This quest to save lives became the driving force behind all I did.”
Aboagye approached his studies with renewed zeal, becoming a top student and, later, the first person in his extended family to become a physician.
But while serving a medical internship at one of Ghana’s premier hospitals, he ran smack into the limits of his effectiveness. Children died from easily preventable diseases such as malaria and diarrhea, and their mothers passed away from equally preventable problems, including postpartum hemorrhage, eclampsia and septic abortion.
“As a clinician, there was little I could do to help reduce the spate of maternal and child mortalities by working from the consulting room and seeing individual patients,’’ says Aboagye.
His frustration mounted when, just eight months after graduating medical school, his mother died of breast cancer, a growing problem in the developing world. He realized that as a doctor, even a wonderful doctor, his impact would be limited. To tackle the underlying causes of his patients’ problems, he needed to step outside of his medical office and into the public arena.
At the Bloomberg School, Aboagye focuses on two areas. The first is cancer epidemiology, in which he seeks new ways to examine patterns underlying the distribution of cancer. As well, he studies the health problems affecting “vulnerable women and children, especially in the developing world.”
Says Aboagye, “I am of the strongest opinion that the survival of the human race is largely dependent on the advances we make in public health.”
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Surgery, Johns Hopkins Medicine