Janis Tupesis honored for work in emergency medicine and education

Janis Tupesis, the Global Health Institute’s graduate medical education liaison, received the 2018 Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award from Global Emergency Medicine Academy (GEMA) of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM).

The award is GEMA’s highest honor, given to an “individual whose work serves as a beacon for future emergency physicians and who has put the needs of patients over self.”

“I have been lucky enough to be at the intersection of education, administration and global health practice,” Tupesis says. “It means a lot to have had the ability to help move the agenda of emergency care forward in a global setting and to focus on how education plays a role in health systems development.”

GEMA presents the award annually to an individual who has improved the delivery of emergent/acute care the world-over through service, leadership, mentorship and academic endeavor. To be eligible for the award the individual needs to be an active SAEM member, GEMA member and have 10 years or more of global health experience.

Tupesis, an emergency physician and former UW-Madison Emergency Medicine residency director at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, completed his residency training at the University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics and received his medical degree from UW-Madison.

Tupesis also works as a volunteer technical consultant at the World Health Organization’s Emergency, Trauma and Acute Care program and serves as the chairperson of the Graduate Medical Education Global Health committee at the UW-Madison Hospitals and Clinics.

During his career, Tupesis says he has focused on bilateral collaboration and partnerships, which he have led to the development of education training programs, curricula and international partnerships.

Currently, Tupesis is working to further develop graduate medical education programs in Liberia, Ethiopia and South Africa that integrate global health into their training. Tupesis emphasizes the significance of completing a residency rotation abroad and the different perspective it gives students.

To help medical students safely and effectively participate in international rotations, Tupesis helped develop “The Practitioner’s Guide to Global Health,” an online, open-access course. The three-part course gives students resources and information about what they should expect from a global health rotation, how to properly prepare for the trip and tools to prepare for their return.

Tupesis has also worked on projects focusing on the intersection of education, health systems and technology, such as creating an app designed to give doctors critical information when they need it. Thanks to a 2015 GHI Seed Grant, Tupesis and his colleagues in South Africa were able to develop the “Essential Medicine Guidance” app and introduce it in the Western Cape province in July 2016. After a month, emergency health care providers were using it regularly to access information such as what medicines are available and hospital’s clinical guidelines to manage specific conditions.

“Truthfully, the biggest achievement I have had is to have surrounded myself with family, friends and colleagues who have been so incredibly supportive of all of my projects, despite the huge commitment of time that is spent away from them,” Tupesis says. “Without them none of this would have been possible.”

By Izabela Zaluska / June 11, 2018

In second year, UniverCity has students, faculty seeking solutions to Dane County problems

In its second year, UW–Madison’s UniverCity Year program directed 305 students and 16 faculty members across 11 departments to come up with ways to address Dane County’s housing gap, improve economic development, and protect its water quality.

On May 4, students, faculty members and the Dane County Board of Supervisors celebrated the year-long UniverCity collaboration. The program works to extend the Wisconsin Idea to the level of the classroom by pairing UW–Madison’s latest research, technology, and brainpower with local government.

“Getting two departments to do the same thing … is a miracle,” said Paul Robbins, director of the UW–Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies “Eleven is because this is a good idea.”

Students and faculty from disparate schools and departments – from Engineering and Environmental Studies to Journalism and Real Estate – filled the Lake Mendota Room of Dejope Residence Hall with poster boards detailing how best to improve their community. In all, 26 projects were completed and presented.

Students from a residential real estate development class tackled affordable housing for the Village of DeForest. Senior Austin Jansen, a real estate and finance major, presented the class’ proposal for a Section 42 tax incentive program which would encourage developers to put private investment into the development of 51 units of affordable housing.

The class did a detailed survey of the land and its resources, made a trip to the village to select an ideal spot for development, and met with city officials to determine feasibility.

“This is the one opportunity where you really get to work out into the community and look at a real site and a real development,” Jansen said. “Being able to work with city officials is really valuable too – being able to get feedback on the projects that you’re doing and see the feedback you would get if you were out in the private market doing it yourself.”

Jim LaGro, a professor of Urban and Regional Planning, said the program employs a favorite teaching style of his called “experiential learning.”

He said he’s been using experiential learning to get students working on real world problems for more than two decades. The aspect of UniverCity Year that makes it stand out, though, is that it pulls departments and schools out of their “silos” and lets them collaborate.

Last semester he taught a class on urban design that looked at the populations that need affordable housing in Dane County. Each student was asked to create a profile of a typical household in the county.

“It was very perceptive. It was very emotional in terms of the stories that students told about households that might need this kind of housing, including some personal experiences of relatives who were in those situations,” LaGro said. “It was a very moving experience for me and I think for many of the students.”

This semester he taught undergraduate classes inlandscape architecture and housing and urban design.

“In both cases I think we’re really blessed here at the University of Wisconsin in terms of having very smart students, caring students, and students who have great work ethics,” LaGro said. “That’s a real luxury when you’re a professor.”

The Dane County Board of Supervisors, with its 37 elected supervisors who create policy for the county, offered real-life situations for classes to work on. Sharon Corrigan, Chair of the Dane County Board, said the projects have created buzz among supervisors who are excited by the students’ and faculty members’ plans and geared up to implement them.

“We knew we were going to get a good product, but the process has been especially exciting too,” Corrigan said. “To have this center of thinking and learning and exploration working on our problems has been really gratifying.”

The issue underpinning all projects was equity, Corrigan said. Even projects that worked to improve the water quality of lakes, for instance, were chosen because the local government wants to ensure everyone can share in the lake equally.

“Every bit of this has been about having our community be equally successful in Dane County,” Corrigan said. “And it’s not just equity but inclusion in this process from all walks of life.”

UniverCity Year is a program within UniverCity Alliance, a broader effort bridging local government, the people of Wisconsin, and UW together in order to work on public issues.

Gavin Luter, UniverCity Alliance’s new director as of April, said UniverCity Year is a realization of the Wisconsin Idea.

“This really is the heart of the Wisconsin Idea, to make sure that local government, state government can learn from the expertise on campus,” Luter said.

Last year, students, faculty, and officials worked on problems facing the city of Monona. This upcoming year, it’s Green County’s turn.

“I’m looking forward to doing some more work next year … that might bring our different skill sets and worldviews and areas of expertise together to really do some powerful stuff,” LaGro said.

Green County, located in south central Wisconsin and known for its pastoral scenery, is politically and socially different from Dane County and offers its own unique set of pressing problems, Robbins said. But the UniverCity Year model is flexible, he added, and can move anywhere in the state.

UniverCity Alliance is currently recruiting faculty for the coming semester to work on projects like reviving the county’s downtown centers, designing safe transportation routes to school, and launching cooperatives to support farmers.

May 4 did not mark the end of the relationship between UniverCity Alliance and Dane County but was merely the beginning of a conversation, Robbins said. In the future, faculty, students, and alumni will still be able to come to the table and hash out solutions to Dane County’s most urgent concerns.

This story appeared first at news.wisc.edu.

By Parker Schorr / May 15, 2018

Young African Leaders Speak Out:

Promoting Well-being, Improving Care, Forging New Solutions for Health

Three 2017 YALI fellows stand together with arms around each other's backs.

Nine of the 25 Mandela Washington Fellows at the UW-Madison this summer are deeply involved in ensuring health for their countries and communities. Physicians, nurses, community outreach workers and an occupational therapist, they will share their passion to provide health for all, and the innovative ways they are reaching their goals, in a series of three YALI Global Health Seminars: July 10, 17 and 24 from 5 to 6 p.m. in Room 1309 at the Health Sciences Learning Center, 750 Highland Ave. (The HSLC is easily accessible via the #80 bus.)

Three scholars will speak during each seminar, giving 15 minute presentations about their work, with time for questions following. The evenings will explore a series of topics:

July 10Forging new solutions for health

  • “Paving the Road to Health Equity” with Rose Mary Nakame, and NGO-fonder from Uganda. Nakame will discuss successful bottom-up approaches utilized by her organization in addressing  the challenges to achieving health equity among the impoverished settings in Uganda. Nakame battled a benign brain tumor at an early age, yet her parents were from a low socio-economic background, which meant poor access to better diagnostic health care. In addition, she felt less important to her community, which tends to value boys more than girls. Her story is like many females who make up half of Uganda’s population and 67 percent of Ugandans living in poverty. Her experience inspired her to work towards increasing access to quality health care, undertaking health related courses and later on, founding REMI East Africa in November 2015. As an executive director of REMI East Africa, she has influenced public health policy and financing through strategic memberships. For example, she lobbied with the Maternal-Child Health Coalition for increment in 2017/2018 National health financing from 1.5 to 1.8 billion Ugandan shillings through the Parliamentary Health Subcommittee.
  •  “The Journey to Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria” with Francis Ayomoh. M.S., Nigeria. Ayomoh has worked for more than five years in clinical practice, as a resident doctor in Internal Medicine with an interest in infectious diseases. He has worked closely with patients with diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Lassa fever, cholera and meningitis. However, his experiences in curative medicine motivated him to switch to preventive medicine, as he realized that it was cheaper and better to prevent diseases than to cure them. Having worked as a clinician for a few years, he now understands the inadequacies within the Nigerian hospital environment and resolves to make things better. He currently works in the Federal Ministry of Health where he formulates and implements policies to improve primary healthcare in Nigeria, making hospitals more efficient and reducing the prevalence of diseases by creating nationwide awareness about hygiene and healthy lifestyle choices.
  • “Surgery and security in Africa” with Odry Fifonsi Agbessi, M.D., Benin. Agbessi is the first plastic surgeon in her country, where she is in charge of burned patients, patients with physical disabilities, and others with deformities or injuries at a national teaching hospital. She chose this specialty after seeing a media report of a young girl with burns on both her face and neck who needed to go to Europe for care because there were no specialists in Benin. Since that moment, Odry has vowed to work hard in order to offer such specialization in her country, as she is convinced that it is critical to Benin’s development.

 July 17: Promoting well-being

  • “Malaria”with Iliassa Ayouba, a nurse in Comoros. Ayouba has worked as a nurse in the Comorian government health system, specifically in rural areas, for five years. He is the National Malaria Control Program supervisor in his community and is the president and founder of the first health care association in Comoros. He is the national vice president of the Insular Peace Network office. He has created an association to build confidence in the Comorian healthcare system and encourage those who need medical assistance to go to the hospital. As a nurse, he is able to connect well with the sick and help them access medical care.
  • “The Community-based Health Planning and Services (CHPS) Concept for Attaining Health for All in Ghana” with Maxwell Tii Kumbeni, a nurse in Ghana. Kumbeni has worked as a trained and licensed registered general nurse and been employed by the Ghana Health Service since 2009.  He started his career in Navrongo Hospital where he was responsible for patient care. After one year, he was reposted to Sakote Health Center in Nabdam District where he was responsible for diagnosing and treating minor ailments, propagating health promotion activities and assisting in running administrative activities. Three years later, he was appointed the sub-district leader, responsible for monitoring and supervision, health promotion and disease prevention, liaison between the sub-district and the district health management team, and implementation of health policies. To reduce health disparities in developing countries, effective policy implementation is key in leadership and management which is why he chose to provide good health to rural communities.
  • “Reproductive Health in Ethiopia” with Kalkidan Lakew Belayneh, M.D., Ethiopia. Belayneh is a medical doctor and an advocator with more than 6 years of experience in advocacy of public health issues, specifically focusing on reproductive health. Currently, she is working as a Medical Director of a government hospital located in a rural setup where she overseas all the clinical activities and she also has helped establish various departments within the hospital. She has an active volunteering experience in different organizations, including her service as the Director of Public Health in Ethiopian Medical Students’ Association. Belayneh earned her medical degree from Addis Ababa University School of Medicine. She is a leader with a commitment to empower women across her country by addressing issues regarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights. She hopes to see all women exercise their rights to the fullest. She chose this work because of her all-time dream of helping the less fortunate and finding solutions for their problems. Being a physician with leadership positions gives her the opportunity to live that dream and also to motivate and manage others to do the same

July 24: Improving access to care

  •  “Perspectives of Social Work in Integrated Health Care” with Patrick Male Kabwe, a community outreach coordinator in Zambia. Kabwe holds a Bachelor’s degree in Adult Education. He has two years’ experience in community outreach, which included coordinating activities for the early infant male circumcision program. In a second position as the community outreach coordinator for the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia, he was also involved in the creating awareness about the need to have early-infant males circumcised, reducing their risk of contracting HIV. In his current position, as a medical social worker at Kasama General Hospital, his role involves coordinating social welfare services in order to facilitate recovery and rehabilitation.
  • “The health of vulnerable marginalized and oppressed  individuals and collectives within Tanzanian context” with Bertha Kanuth Mbuya, an occupational therapist in Tanzania. Mbuya is an occupational therapist who works in various settings, including schools, refugee camps, and special needs schools to empower and advocate for human rights for the vulnerable and most marginalized individuals to engage fully in society for their health and well-being. She chose this profession because it inspired her to help individuals live meaningful lives. Her own experience with family members with disabilities drove her to study a profession that challenges power relationships, structure inequalities and entrenched mindsets that facilitate occupational injustices for the most marginalized individuals in her society and Africa in general. Her goal is to enhance equality, promote human rights, and facilitate equal participation.
  • “Strategies and challenges to reduce maternal and perinatal mortality in Ethiopia” with Bemnet Zegeve Ashenafi, M.D., Ethiopia. Eleven years ago, Bemnet’s grandmother died, although she could have been saved if she had reached a hospital sooner. Since then, Bemnet has had a burning desire to save lives. After six years of hard work, she was qualified to be a doctor. She has worked in different hospitals in Addis Ababa as well as in rural areas as an intern. It was during her internship in Nedjo Hospital that she started to realize her potential and how she was needed in the rural community. Currently, she works as a head of in-patient department and actively participates in raising awareness about maternal and child health.

This is the third year row, UW-Madison has hosted 25 Mandela Washington Fellows who are part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The initiative was launched in 2010 to support young Africans as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa.

The fellows visiting Madison aspire to work in all levels of government, regional or international organizations, or other publicly minded groups and think tanks. During their month-long stay, they will learn from Wisconsin’s scholars and professionals and visit government entities, non-profit organizations and businesses across the state.

The fellows, who are 25- to 35-years-old, have established records of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive change in their organizations, institutions, community and countries.

The Global Health Institute works with the African Studies Program and other campus units to plan the curriculum for the fellows.

YALI Tuesdays


Host a Mandela Washington Fellow for dinner


2017 Mandela Washington Fellows enjoy a dinner and reception with community members.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is among 38 universities selected as hosts for the six-week Mandela Washington Fellowship. The Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) brings 700 leaders from sub-Saharan Africa to US universities for academic discussion, leadership training, and community engagement.

In addition to participating in professional and academic sessions, we would like Fellows to engage with the Madison community and its members. As part of this effort, we are looking for volunteers to host 1-2 Fellows for Sunday evening dinners during their time in Madison. We are eager to introduce Fellows to a variety of American households, so hosts of all genders, races, ethnicities, marital statuses, sexual orientations and living arrangements are encouraged to participate.

If interested, please use this survey to indicate your hosting availability and we will follow up to confirm participation. Look for a full listing of Fellow biographies in early June, to be posted here.

This was originally posted at africa.wisc.edu on May 7, 2018.

Graduate•Professional•Capstone Certificates in Global Health open doors for students across campus


For Teresa Caya, who earned her Graduate•Professional Certificate in Global Health while completing her medical degree, the certificate was a way to plan and carry out an infectious disease global health project in Nicaragua. “We live in a world in which disease and poverty do not respect geographic boundaries,” she says. “Better understanding health problems and cultures in other countries helps me to better diagnose and treat patients I see in the United States.”

The certificate showed Johnny Uelmen, who earned his Ph.D. from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, a new career path. “During my (field experience) in rural Thailand, I was fortunate to meet so many local citizens that were so kind and welcoming,” he says. “Learning about the general fear of arboviral illnesses and the safety of their community inspired me to study diseases in areas of the world that are most affected.”

Johnny Uelmen, who earned his Graduate•Professional Certificate in Global Health, checks for mosquito larvae. Certificate

Across campus. Across the world. Across Wisconsin. The Graduate•Professional•Capstone Certificates in Global Health train students in the classroom and bring them to under-served communities to learn, to share, to grow.

This year’s application deadline is April 30.

Students from programs as diverse as human and veterinary medicine, engineering, nursing, pharmacy, education, anthropology, nutrition, environmental studies and more pursue the certificate as a way to develop marketable skills to work with diverse communities.

“The certificate will broaden your perspective on the meaning of health and well-being in cultures and populations around the world,” says Certificate Director Christopher Olsen. “Certificate students experience first-hand their role as global citizens and their potential as global health leaders.” Olsen explains more about the program in a new three-minute video.

The 9-credit certificate program is open to all UW-Madison graduate students and students in professional programs, including medicine, pharmacy and veterinary medicine. It’s also available to community members who want to know more and contribute to global health. The program includes a field course experience, including faculty-led courses in Thailand, Uganda and Ecuador.

The certificate is offered through the Global Health Institute (GHI) and the Departments of Academic Affairs and Population Health Sciences in the School of Medicine and Public Health. Students can find a detailed description of the certificate and the application form on the GHI website.

The application deadline for 2018-2019 is April 30.


By Ann Grauvogl/ April 5, 2018




Tupesis helps design global health course for health care learners

A new version of “The Practitioner’s Guide to Global Health,” an online, open-access course, is available, says UW Emergency physician Janis Tupesis, the Global Health Institute-Graduate Medical Education liaison, who helped develop and teaches in the program.

The course provides a uniform and comprehensive national education program to help medical students safely and effectively participate in international rotations. It is an open-access course that’s available free-of-charge, Tupesis and his colleagues write in The Journal of Travel Medicine. Gabrielle Jacquet and Suzy Sarfaty from Boston University School of Medicine are co-authors of the Letter to the Editor.

“Many of our institutions were spending a tremendous amount of time putting together these global health programs with administrative components, financial components and logistics,” Tupesis says. “But they were spending little time in actually preparing the learners.”

Global health faculty from many countries and many specialties collaborated to complete the three-part course. It includes three segments:

  • The Big Picture, completed 6 to 12 months in advance of the international experience, looks at what students expect from a global health rotation and what experience will be right for their level of training.
  • Preparation and On the Ground, completed 1 to 3 months in advance of the experience, looks at the logistics of preparing for the trip, including topics from transportation and security to vaccinations and cultural awareness.
  • Reflection, completed near the end of the rotation, gives students tools to prepare to return, It includes information about dealing with unexpected feelings and health issues, and planning for the future.

March 14, 2017


Campus mourns loss of Robin Mittenthal

Robin Mittenthal, who touched hundreds of student lives as manager, advisor, mentor and field course leader for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health, died suddenly this weekend following an accident at his farm.

“Robin was a very thoughtful, passionate family man,” says Sherry Tanumihardjo, professor of Nutritional Sciences and director of the undergraduate certificate. “His family was the most important thing to him. Some of this passion rubbed off in his mentoring of hundreds of students.”

Mittenthal managed the certificate program from just after its inception in 2011 to spring 2017, when he became center coordinator at the Upper Midwestern Regional Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Disease.

Employed by the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), he was a central contributor to the development and coordination of the undergraduate certificate. The program is co-sponsored by GHI and CALS.

As an administrative manager, Mittenthal dedicated countless hours organizing the program and advising students. “Robin was involved right from the start of the undergraduate certificate in global health,” says Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute. “The early success of the new program was due, in no small part, to his unfailing dedication and caring for the experience of each and every student.”

“Robin was an intelligent, caring and loved advisor by hundreds of students,” says Lori DiPrete Brown, associate director for education and engagement at the Global Health Institute and an undergraduate certificate leader. “He cared deeply about education, the environment and the way food systems related to health, but most importantly, his family was the center of his life.”

Mittenthal’s vibrant spirit as an advisor and educator predated his engagement with the certificate program. He served as an agricultural advisor with the Peace Corps in The Gambia during the mid 1990s and worked as a librarian and teacher for K-12 students.

At the Upper Midwestern Regional Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Disease, Mittenthal was responsible for coordinating partners in five states and tracking the center’s progress in addressing vector-borne disease challenges. Susan Paskewitz and Lyric Bartholomay, co-directors of the Center, admired the radiance Mittenthal brought with him.

“People have said so many amazing things about him — his passion for what he did, caring for students, sense of humor and intelligence,” Paskewitz says. “One of our students said he was like a perfect human being.”

In a GoFundMe campaign to contribute to the education savings accounts for Mittenthal’s children, Bartholomay wrote: “Robin Mittenthal had a rare gift for connecting to other people. He gave us his time, his undivided attention, his radiant smile, his stories that spanned an unbelievable repertoire of life experiences, his infectious enthusiasm, his thanks and his encouragement. In so doing, he touched lives of countless colleagues in entomology and CALS, of hundreds of undergraduate advisees in the Global Health certificate, and of the students, staff and colleagues in and surrounding a new center on campus for mosquito and tick-borne disease.”

UW senior KM Barnett met with Mittenthal last week about plans for next semester’s work at the center. The short meeting became two hours to visit about her long- and short-term career goals. She remembers: “At the end of the meeting, he said to me, ‘I am so excited for all the things you’ll do.’ His words warmed me with comfort and confidence. … I am grateful for Robin’s keen ability to listen and say the right thing at just the right time.”

Sweta Shrestha, program manager for the Wisconsin Population Health Service Fellowship Program at the Population Health Institute, worked closely with Mittenthal during her time as GHI’s assistant director for education, especially in the early stages of the certificate program. “He was larger than life, and he cared so deeply,” she says. “There are so many students he’s impacted. He wanted to nurture every student, and he did — he put everyone else ahead of himself. If a student needed a recommendation letter and he was up to his ears in work, he wouldn’t hesitate to say yes.”

Across campus, students mourn. Samuel Park, a senior with a Certificate in Global Health, remembers Mittenthal as a kind-hearted, passionate advisor. “He will forever be remembered as a shining light in the campus community who inspired many, many students to pursue careers in support of our collective health,” says Catherine Goslin (’17), who earned her undergraduate certificate.

During Mittenthal’s tenure, the certificate expanded to reach hundreds of students. It has become the largest undergraduate certificate on campus. “The connections he made across campus were incredible,” says Devika Suri, who worked with Mittenthal as an undergraduate certificate advisor. “Everyone knew him and respected him. He was able to bridge different areas of campus to bring people together and collaborate.”

Mitthenthal’s impact resounded across campus. Prior to working for the certificate, he served as chairman of the board overseeing the Eagle Heights Community Gardens while pursuing his Ph.D. in entomology, studying how organic fertilizer affected insect pests.

“He tried to infuse his love of the land and earth with his job,” Suri says. “Farming was his love and passion, and his dream was always to have a farm.”

A dream that came to life in Little Mammoth Berry Farm, LLC, a farm on a beautiful plot in Belleville, Wisconsin, that will reflect the energy and compassion of Mittenthal, it’s builder, for years to come.

Mittenthal was 43. He is survived by his wife, Daniella Molle, and their two children.

“He was a salt of the earth kind of guy,” Shrestha says. “He was so good, and so honest. The spaces he made for students were his way of showing how much he cared about global health, and the spaces the land makes for us.”

Mittenthal was remembered at grief sessions for faculty and staff, and students, Tuesday.

His funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Cress Funeral Home, 6021 University Avenue. Visitation for family and close friends begins at 10 a.m. His obituary has been posted.

To contribute to the GoFundMe campaign, click here.

By Yusra Murad/ December 6, 2017

Photo by George Hesselberg/Wisconsin State Journal

Health access program bridges micro-finance, health for Uganda’s poor

This story appeared first at news.wisc.edu.

Patients, mostly mothers and children, outside a clinic along Lake Victoria, Uganda. As the sign indicates, the clinic relies on health workers from the government Ministry of Health, transported by Health Access Connect (HAC). KEVIN GIBBONS/HEALTH ACCESS CONNECT

In 2008, Kevin Gibbons began research in Uganda’s fishing communities. His goal, as a student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, was to understand how efforts to promote sustainable fisheries affected family income.

And then a series of “smack yourself on the forehead” moments caused him to switch gears from fishery management to the problem of access to health care.

Today, Gibbons is executive director of Health Access Connect (HAC), a non-profit that merges microfinance and health-care access in Uganda. HAC lends to taxi drivers wanting to buy a motorcycle. In return, the driver agrees to spend three days a month transporting government health workers to nearby villages for a monthly clinic.

Gibbons received his Master’s degree from UW–Madison in 2012 in conservation biology and sustainable development.

The first head-smack occurred during interviews at a fishing community on the shore of Lake Victoria, when he learned that villagers were still dying of HIV/AIDS, even though the government was offering free, effective medicine just three miles away.

Children fetch water at sunset at a fishing community on Lake Victoria, where many residents have difficulty reaching the health system. KEVIN GIBBONS/HEALTH ACCESS CONNECT

A second bit of enlightenment occurred at a remote island on Lake Victoria. “It was a very exotic trip, and I was enjoying myself,” Gibbons recalls. “When I asked about life on the island, my source said, ‘If I could leave, I would leave tomorrow. If I get sick, if a mother is in labor, or a child breaks an arm, it’s an eight-hour boat trip’” to the nearest clinic. Gibbons adds, “Afterwards, I didn’t see those hours-long motorcycle and boat rides in the same way.”

As Gibbons and HAC co-founder Carolyne Ariokot were incubating ideas to bridge the gap, a friend asked Gibbons for a loan to buy a motorcycle to use as a taxi, which is a standard way to get around in rural Uganda. “Mike Nsubuga walked me through the business,” Gibbons says. “Motorcycles cost $1,300, so most guys rent, which makes for an expensive, unstable livelihood.”

By 2014, he and Ariokot began to see a solution in micro-finance loans that would provide income and health transport.

HAC program director Carolyne Ariokot and borrower Mike Nsubuga discuss logistics. Mike paid off the first motorcycle loan in February, 2017, and now owns this cycle. KEVIN GIBBONS/HEALTH ACCESS CONNECT

Although treating HIV/AIDS had been the initial impetus for thinking about expanding the reach of existing health services, the goal has broadened.

“There are issues of privacy,” says Gibbons. “If that’s all we did, you would know that patients were HIV-positive. Also, there is demand for other services.”

Frequent clinic services include HIV and malaria testing, vaccines for children, family planning and perinatal care.

All care is delivered by government employees, Gibbons emphasizes, with HAC simply providing transport to and from the villages.

Lisa Naughton, who is chair of the department of geography at UW–Madison, says Gibbons was “a great communicator and a force for good in the world.” Naughton, who has studied the links between poverty and the environment in Uganda, says “you find people in the poorest remote areas, languishing, ill at home, because they can’t even get $3 to get to a clinic in a nearby town.”

With HAC’s win-win approach, she says, “A lot of young men are helping their homes and families by becoming motorcycle taxi drivers.”

HAC motorcycle loan recipient Steven Ssenkubuge delivers medical supplies to a mobile clinic in Uganda. KEVIN GIBBONS/HEALTH ACCESS CONNECT

Health Access Connect now has three full-time and three part-time employees. Motorcycle loans are just the start. HAC has bought four ambulance trailers that can trail behind a motorcycle, is surveying health access in Uganda, and it’s hiring. “The common thread is that we are always trying to serve the health needs of those in remote areas,” Gibbons says.

At present, HAC’s bread and butter is the micro-finance enabled transport of health workers. For the 18-month term of the loan, one motorcycle and its driver serve three villages with a monthly clinic. Then, if the driver has paid the loan every week, “he owns the motorcycle and is not obligated to drive for us,” Gibbons says. “At that point, we may keep them on retainer, or take the money and loan it out for another motorcycle.”

Committing three days will trim the driver’s income, “but it’s a great loan and a great opportunity,” Gibbons says. Over the 18-month course of one loan, he says, that driver can enable 2,625 people to be treated. “And it’s no problem at all to find guys who want a loan.”

Health Access Connect starts its annual fund-raiser on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 28.