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Honoring Anita Datar: Funding the Next Generation of Public Health Leaders

Three years ago, Palladium lost our colleague and friend, Anita Datar, in an attack in Mali. To mark this anniversary, we're checking in on the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Anita Datar Centennial Fellowship, which helps recipients carry on Anita's legacy to improve the lives of those living with HIV.

Anita Datar was in Bamako, Mali when she lost her life in an attack.

She had been visiting with a team of Palladium colleagues to launch our Health Policy Plus programme, which helps to improve the quality and accessibility of health services for the people who need them. Anita travelled to Africa often, having spent her life and career working on behalf of women and girls, and people living with HIV.

The Johns Hopkins Centennial Fellowship
Dr. Farley Cleghorn, global head of Palladium’s health practice, is one of many who have been deeply impacted by this tragedy. Moved to carry on her legacy, he brought the idea of a fellowship to his alma mater, the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Farley personally endowed a fellowship in Anita’s name, which Palladium doubled, to create the Anita Datar Centennial Fellowship for a PhD student in the Department of Epidemiology.

“Everything she did in her life she did to help others,” her family said after her passing. ”We know that she would want to promote education and healthcare to prevent violence and poverty at home and abroad.”

Ruth Berg, Farley Cleghorn, Chinenye Ugoji, and Professor David Celentano, Chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health.

Carrying the Torch
When Chinenye Ugoji was accepted to the Epidemiology Doctoral program at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Farley was already familiar with her impressive work at the University of Maryland's Institute of Human Virology programs in Nigeria. Prior to her doctoral program, she earned a Master of Public Health degree from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg school and a BPharm degree from University of Benin, Nigeria.

Chinenye is Nigerian-American and worked extensively with the Government of Nigeria to improve the Quality of care of persons living with HIV, making her a perfect candidate for the Anita Datar Centennial Fellowship.This commitment isn't all Anita and Chinenye have in common. Both women have focused their work on West Africa, and both have balanced their calling with motherhood, as Anita was a devoted mother to her son, and Chinenye speaks with love for her three children. "I love them so much… they are exceptional kids and having and raising them makes me believe I can achieve anything" she says. "They are also my stress breakers as I balance being a full-time PhD student."

"Both are very optimistic, very positive, very practical women," Farley notes. "Anita had a very disarming way of changing your mind for you, and she would do it with a twinkle in her eye. They both have a very clear presence. They stand out."

Chinenye's Work: Using Accelerated Aging to Predict Risk for Disease
For Chinenye's part, what is now the focus of her PhD research began when she led the development and implementation of Nigeria's National Quality Management Program for HIV (NigeriaQual-HIV). It was there that she noticed that despite availability of treatment, persons living with HIV appeared to age faster than persons without HIV. She is concerned about the increasing incidence of chronic disease in these populations and poor access to care. Now at Johns Hopkins, her research lies at the intersection of aging, immunosuppression and cancer.

"Comparing two persons of the same age, studies have shown that one may be biologically older than the other," she says. "Most chronic diseases are age-related and excess aging may place individuals at higher risk of age-related diseases. A better understanding of the excess aging – chronic disease framework in persons may inform preventive interventions and save lives."

Chinenye Ugoji delivers a Quality Improvement training at an HIV care and treatment site, supported by Friends in Global Health in Nigeria

As for what's next, Chinenye plans to leave her own legacy, thanks in part to the Anita Datar Centennial Fellowship. "I really would like to express my appreciation to Farley and Palladium," she says. "As I advance my public health career through research and practice, I'm already thinking of the next generation. I hope to be in a position where I can give back - teaching, supporting and raising the next generation of public health researchers and leaders, while supporting cancer and chronic disease prevention, care and treatment efforts in Africa."

To read more about Anita Datar, visit http://anitadatar.org/.