Medical School Instructor Wins Prestigious TED Prize

Harvard Medical School Quadrangle
Harvard Medical School.
Raj Panjabi, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, will use the $1 million he won in the 2017 TED Prize to train healthcare workers around the world, he announced Tuesday night at the international TED conference in Vancouver, Canada.

Panjabi, who fled his home country of Liberia at age nine due to civil war and became a doctor in the United States, returned to Liberia in 2005. At the time, only 51 doctors were available to serve the four million people in the war-torn country, a situation analogous to eight doctors serving the entirety of Washington, D.C.

So Panjabi and his team founded Last Mile Health, a nonprofit which trains and hires individuals in geographically isolated areas with the skills to provide basic, life-saving healthcare services to their communities.

In his remarks in Vancouver Tuesday night, Panjabi said the organization he plans to found with the prize money, Community Health Academy, will train healthcare workers around the world and save 30 million lives by 2030.

“The idea is that help for these communities might not come from places we expect,” he said to reporters on Tuesday night. “It may not come from the outside — it may actually come from within.”

According to its website, the TED Prize is awarded annually to a leader “with a creative, bold wish to spark global change.” Since 2013, $1 million have been allotted to each of the winners, who unveil their plans at the TED conference. Past honorees include former President Bill Clinton, singer-philanthropist Bono, and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

In 2009, Last Mile Health provided the first rural, public HIV program in Liberia. During the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, the organization worked with the Liberian government to train more than 1,300 healthcare workers how to prevent the spread of the deadly viral epidemic.

In 2016, Punjabi was selected to TIME Magazine’s list of Top 100 Most Influential People, with a tribute written by former President Bill Clinton.

“To spend time with Raj Panjabi is to see up close what happens when someone with uncommon courage and compassion puts himself on the front lines of the world’s most complex challenges,” Clinton wrote at the time.

—Staff writer William L. Wang can be reached at william.wang@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @wlwang20

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