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From left: Rich Billings, Meredith Wilson, Antonia Karbe and Carolyn Starrett, all ’07, stand in front of the Burnt Forest Clinic, located about half an hour outside of Eldoret in Western Kenya. Photo taken by Glenn Pappalardo ’07.

Kellogg Global Health team fights HIV in Africa

Initiative exports Kellogg leadership to bring new tools in battle against disease; effort highlights school’s experiential learning and global management framework

By Adrienne Murrill

9/10/2007 - The Kellogg School of Management’s Dean Dipak C. Jain frequently says that the school is in the business of producing “global leaders,” and it did just that during a recent research project in Africa. Two teams — comprised of Kellogg staff and graduates of the Class of 2007, as well as students and residents of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine — spent more than four weeks gathering market research at African HIV clinics as part of the Global Health Initiative (GHI) initiative.

Introduced in 2004 as a collaboration between Kellogg and Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, the university received a $4.9 million grant from the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation in August 2006 to research and develop affordable diagnostic devices for testing and treating HIV. Leaders of the initiative, which includes Daniel Diermeier, the IBM Distinguished Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practice, decided it would be most effective to integrate GHI into existing academic and non-academic programs at Kellogg, such as Kellogg Corps, a service opportunity for new MBA graduates.

It was through this program that Kara Palamountain ’04, executive director of GHI, traveled to South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Malawi and Zambia with Mark Price and Matt Dobson, both ’07; Feinberg School of Medicine students Jefferson Jones and Brock Daniels; and Northwestern Memorial resident Heather Costello. Meredith Wilson ’07 led fellow Kellogg graduates Glenn Pappalardo, Rich Billings, Carolyn Starrett and Antonia Karbe to clinics in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Both groups averaged five visits to clinics per week, covering more than 40 clinics between the two trips.

Palamountain and Wilson said the countries they visited were chosen because they have a high volume of HIV infection. In Swaziland, for example, about 30 percent of inhabitants have the virus. In the more populous South Africa, where 18 percent is infected, this means more than 5 million people are suffering. (Comparatively less than 1 percent of the population is infected in the U.S.)

Upon returning, the teams reported their findings to McCormick engineers and scientists, who will design at least two products to bring to the field next year. Palamountain said there is a whole product portfolio that GHI could focus on, such as an HIV diagnostic test for infants, among others, to help initiate and manage HIV therapy. “The end goal of our work is to make HIV testing more affordable and accessible to patients and healthcare providers in resource-limited settings. We think we have some products under way that will really revolutionize HIV care in these settings.” Palamountain said.

What struck Wilson during meetings at the clinics was a sense of encouragement. “The doctors were saying, ‘Yes, you’re on the right track,’ ‘Yes we need this,’ ‘How soon can you get this to me?’” she said. “They want it now, they need it now.”

Palamountain agreed. “The doctors are doing a phenomenal job of making decisions blindfolded, without sufficient tools. But there is technology that exists that can be put at point-of-care sites and could really impact (patients’ lives).

Between traveling and gathering research, the Kellogg Corps volunteers were also under examination, in a manner of speaking. “We all tested our leadership skills in a way that we couldn’t have done in an academic setting,” Wilson said. “It’s a lot easier to be a leader in an ivory tower than it is to go and be tired, jetlagged and dirty in an emotionally charged setting.” Even managing at the modest level of mere logistics in Africa is challenging, she added. “The internal focus that it took to process what we were seeing and the external focus that it took to adjust to trying to get through it was incredibly difficult, but it was so profound in terms of what we all learned about ourselves.”

Starrett, one of Wilson’s team members, said that despite the demanding work, the project was a fantastic experience. “We challenged ourselves, met incredible people and developed valuable insights on the HIV tests that will make the most impact in African settings.” She added that she did not have any background in medical devices or global health prior to the project, but she appreciated one key lesson learned from the experience: how anyone can get involved in helping to make a difference. “I feel so lucky to have developed a new passion and to give back in a meaningful way."

Both Wilson and Palamountain were impressed with their teams’ efforts. “The fact that these recent graduates chose to largely self-fund this market research trip prior to starting their full time jobs in September perhaps best demonstrates the passion and commitment that Kellogg seeks to instill in its graduates,” said Palamountain.

For additional information about the Global Health Initiative, visit thinkglobalhealth.org.