17-18 Global Scholar-Ambele Mwamelo

Ambele Mwamelo

17-18 Global Scholar


I recently graduated from St. Olaf College having pursued an individually designed major called Public Health: Biological Studies, Gender and Culture. I am very passionate about global health and health systems reforms in developing countries. The fellowship will enable me to pursue my passion and be in a position where I can join the efforts to address the infectious disease burden on women and children.

My passion, educational background, volunteer and work experience in disease prevention make me a good candidate for this fellowship. As an undergraduate student at St. Olaf, I had a unique opportunity to design my own major through the college’s Centre for Integrative Studies. The major allowed me to explore complex questions about social-cultural, biological and gender phenomena on public health issues. To be further engaged in healthcare, I was fortunate enough to work as an intern for the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in Uganda. I worked with the pediatric HIV team on ongoing interventions for Early Infant Diagnosis of HIV/AIDS aimed at reducing maternal and child mortality. I am currently working as a Pharmacy Clinical Review Technician for Prime Therapeutics, a Pharmacy Benefits Management company that serves over 20 million members. The experience has given me insights into the realities, successes and challenges of access to medication. I am a firm believer in giving back to the community through service and volunteering. Thus, I volunteered with organizations such as Oles FACE AIDS at St. Olaf College, and All Together for Dignity (ATD) an organization that works to overcome the challenges of extreme poverty in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

All these experiences have challenged me and enhanced my passion for improving healthcare. As a young leader, I have a responsibility to serve my community through work in public health. I am committed and hope that receiving this fellowship will open doors for more learning opportunities and connections with other individuals who share similar passions .

Question: How does your educational, professional, or volunteer experience align with Rotary's goals in the selected are of focus?

By the age of 16, I had watched three of my relatives battle and die of clinical AIDS as a result of challenges such as the lack of exposure to proper treatment, fear of stigma and a general lack of awareness among providers. The effect of such challenges was a reality for many HIV positive young women. It was at this point that I knew that I wanted to be part of the efforts to create transformative impact in healthcare. I co-founded a local initiative called the Coalition of HIV Positive Young Girls (COPY Girls) in Mapinga Village, located in the Coastal Province of Tanzania. I was inspired by my mentor, Lydia Rwechungura, a prominent HIV activist who lived openly with HIV for more than 11 years and advocated for women and young girls living with HIV up until her death in 2010. In two years, COPY Girls achieved 3 major goals: providing HIV education, initiating a peer support group for fifteen HIV-infected women, and establishing an income generating watermelon farm. This was my first exposure to public health. It challenged my understanding of healthcare and gender issues in my community. I got a glimpse of the extent to which poverty, illiteracy, and gender inequality contribute to public health challenges.

While at Saint Olaf, I worked with my faculty advisor and the college’s Centre for Integrative Studies (CIS) to design my independent major in public health. Such exposure to interdisciplinary learning during my undergraduate liberal arts education strengthened my interest in the field. My passion for working in maternal and child health led me to work with public health organizations, and conduct research in India. One of the most impactful experiences was my internship with CHAI in Uganda. I worked with Pediatric HIV team on the ongoing Early Infant Diagnosis program aimed at eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV. I assisted the team in developing training materials that were to be used at the health facilities selected for the pilot. This pilot specifically tested interventions to optimize identification of HIV exposed infants and linkage to care. By the end of my internship, the pilot had been implemented at 20 facilities across the country. The summer with CHAI allowed me to see the existing gaps in care and treatment, and the ongoing efforts to close that gap. Such first-hand experience reaffirmed for me how strengthened policy and interventions can immensely improve healthcare outcomes and reduce mortality. I also sat in stakeholder meetings at the Ministry of Health where national HIV Testing and Counseling (HTC) policies were being reviewed. I was blown away and inspired by the passion, commitment and hard work that goes into ensuring that overall healthcare needs are met.

Rotary’s investment in my education and passion will allow me to continue working in maternal and child health issues beyond the HIV epidemic. I am inspired by Rotary’s ongoing positive impact in health delivery and wellbeing, especially among vulnerable populations. An MPH degree will offer me a unique opportunity to expand on my knowledge and experience in public health so that I can contribute to making a difference in the communities that I will serve. Above all, I believe that joining the Rotary network will give me the immense privilege of belonging to an organization that supports young individuals who are committed to being agents of change in their communities.

Ambele Mwamelo