It was after hearing about African Leadership Academy from the person sitting next to him on a flight years ago, that leading HIV researcher and Director of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, Dr. Bruce Walker set out on a mission to find out more about ALA. In June 2019, he embarked on his first visit to campus, and from then, knew he wanted to incorporate his life-long work in HIV research, with the Academy.
That visit culminated this January into a breakthrough learning opportunity for five ALA students, Aroma Atieno (Kenya), Adetolani Odogiyon (Nigeria), Martin Lubowa (Uganda), Oluwamayowa Akinkugbe (Nigeria) and Essi Logan (Togo). These students joined 20 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) undergraduates as part of Dr. Walker’s annual HIV course titled Evolution of an Epidemic which was held partly at the ALA campus and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
The Evolution of an Epidemic course, which took place from 16-25 January, featured an immersive experience that introduced students to a holistic approach to the study of the HIV epidemic. Led by Dr. Walker and Professor Howard Heller from MIT Medical, the learning opportunity included insightful lectures, Question and Answer sessions with experts, site visits to hospitals and community centers, cultural explorations of Johannesburg and Kwazulu-Natal, and group presentations.
ALA had the pleasure of hosting the first two days of the course, where, during his welcoming speech, CEO Chris Bradford highlighted the importance of collaborations such as these. “Some threats that we face as an educational institution are centered around the need to remain innovative in our approach,” he said. “We have to be committed to innovation to make sure we build an institution that will last 50 years from now – an institution that will outlast us.”
Dr. Walker echoed Chris Bradford’s sentiments, saying “I’m hoping that in the same way that ALA is focused on innovation, that we can think together about ways to innovate for the future in order to have a bigger impact on not just the HIV epidemic but healthcare on the African continent in general.”
The impact this unique course has had on the ALA students cannot be quantified. Essi Logan, one of the five students said, “The HIV course has been incredibly insightful and eye-opening. I feel sad to have been so ignorant of the prevalence of HIV on the continent and the struggle most women affected by the virus face. Yet, I am thrilled to see the incredible progress that has been made in both the treatment and prevention of HIV, and I look forward to learning more.”
Dr. Walker is looking forward to seeing what the future holds. “We could have partnered with anyone but there really is no organization like African Leadership Academy. I think it’s the level of motivation of the students, their intellectual curiosity, their drive as well as the philosophy of ALA that engenders this thirst for education and knowledge.”