As a boy growing up in Nigeria, Dr. Ernest Ekong ’14 used to watch his grandfather—the man he was named after—treat members of the community as a “dispenser,” a sort of informal nurse or doctor trained by British colonists. As Ekong and his grandfather grew close, so did his desire to follow his grandfather’s lead and help people in need. Playtime often resulted in Ekong treating friends who suffered wounds, so much so that he soon earned the nickname “doctor” from friends and family. When it came time to choose a career path, there was no doubt about what field he would pursue: medicine.
More than 30 years later, Ekong plays a key role in public health, splitting his time between the United States and Africa. As the director of the clinical services department at the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria, and the director of health programs at the University of Maryland’s Institute of Human Virology, Ekong develops regional and country-specific strategies for improving healthcare in the general population, with a specialization in HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. He trains healthcare workers in patient management and research, works to strengthen health systems, and acts as a liaison to the government. Most recently, Ekong earned his PhD in Public Health with a specialization in Epidemiology.
It was a close friend of Ekong’s—also a public health physician—who first directed his attention to Walden. “He told me that since I was already successfully and actively working in public health, Walden’s doctoral program would be beneficial for me to combine what I learn in the courses with my own work,” he recalls.
Ekong already had vast international experience—research associate for Harvard University, assistant secretary general of the Task Force on AIDS Control in Africa, and country director for Harvard’s U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Nigeria—but the 60-month PhD program helped him expand his vision of the impact he could have professionally to a global scale. “Walden helped me think much more widely than my job description as country director of Harvard PEPFAR in Nigeria,” he says.
He found health informatics to be particularly helpful: “I learned how to handle and manage data, from generation right through to its storage and use, and how to use specific indicators to apply to new service offerings and planning more for different populations like orphans and vulnerable children.”
Ekong wants others to know that anyone can work toward international social change, no matter where you are in the world. “It is not easy, but you can always start with the little that you can do,” he says. “I believe in moving one step at a time. You must build trust, you must be transparent, and you must enjoy being the changemaker and innovator for sustainable success.”
Photo 1 courtesy of Dr. Ernest EkongPhoto 2 credit: Matt Spangler