With roots that go back 20 years and includes a connection to the Kinshasa School of Public Health, Tulane has long and extensive ties with the DRC. This close connection-a network often jokingly referred to as the “Tulane Mafia”-is evident in the number of alumni
working on the front lines of public health in this sub-Saharan country.
This strong network of alumni plays a key role in the ability of Tulane researchers
to operate effectively in the DRC. Four layers of participation mark Tulane’s involvement: Tulane SPHTM faculty like Dr. Jane Bertrand, Dr. David Hotchkiss, Dr. Philip Anglewicz, and others; SPHTM alumni who are also Congolese citizens; American alums working
on DRC projects, and SPHTM graduate students serving as interns.
A number of Congolese alumni are instrumental in projects in which Tulane
currently works, including:
• Dr. Miatudila Malonga (MHA ’76), who graduated in the first cohort of Zairian students to Tulane and currently consults for Tulane on family planning advocacy projects;
• Dr. Paullusamba Dikassa (EPID MPH ’81, PhD ’89), research director on the Access to Primary Health Care Project (ASSP) evaluation with Kinshasa School of Public Health (KSPH) colleagues;
• Dr. Antoinette Tshefu (TRMD MPH ’87, PhD ’87), dean of KSPH, and Dr. Ali Mapatano (NUTR MPH ’87, EPID DrPH ’93) who collaborate with Tulane on ASSP research;
• Dr. Patrick Kayembe (INHD MPH ’93, DrPH ’97) and Dr. Nelly Dikamba (PhD ’10), professors at KSPH, who have directed family planning surveys using cell phone technology.
In related fields, Dr. Lina Piripiri (INHD MPH ’93, DrPH ‘o2) serves as maternal health advisor for USAID/Kinshasa and Dr. Felix Minuku (EPIDIINHD MPH ’84) is part of the senior leadership of SANRU, a major faith-based NGO based in the DRC focused on a number of health initiatives.
American alumni who play key roles in public health in the DRC, include:
• Dr. Larry Sthreshley, (DrPH ’04) who was born in the country when it was still the Belgian Congo, now directs the Access to Primary Health Care Project;
• Dr. Franklin Baer (NHD DrPH ’82), who has served in leadership roles with SANRU since the 1980s;
• And Bradley Barker (INHD MPH ’89), who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire in the 1980s and then staff member at the fledging national family planning program. He has resurfaced in the DRC as project director for the distribution of anti-retroviral
drugs for HIV-positive individuals in the Congo.
More recent arrivals include Sandra Gass (HEDC MPH ’94), who has been DRC country director for social marketing company DKT International since 2011. Gass’ background goes deep into community health projects, from stints in India and Ethiopia to early experiences after Tulane in Brooklyn, N.Y. She grew up in a home focused on public health. In fact, her mother worked in urban slums rolling out community based health programs for women and a young Gass would often accompany her.
Gass is typical of the student who comes to Tulane with a wealth of experience and leaves Tulane to contribute in a major way to public health. “I feel like I’m … doing something that is really valuable.”
Students also play key roles in the success of Tulane’s work, as interns in the DRC or research assistants back in New Orleans. For instance, in 2013 Ann-Marie Yongho began a
three-month internship in Kinshasa, but her assignment morphed into 10 months as she became increasingly valuable to the success of the ASSP project. She will graduate with her MPH in May.
Having served three years in the Peace Corps in Cameroon prior to beginning her MPH degree program at Tulane, Yongho’s innate spirited enthusiasm and dogged persistence has served her well. The winning combination of familiarity with African culture and gumption to take on an assignment in a known harsh environment made her a natural fit.
A second intern, Yu-Heng (Andrew) Chou (GHSD MPH ’13) completed a three-month internship and was invited back for an additional six-month consultancy on the ASSP Project. His background in operations matched with strong programming skills were greatly valued in a country where logistics is one of the greatest challenges.
Finally, student research assistants from New Orleans provide invaluable support to the DRC from a distance, working on tasks ranging from developing the content and graphics for the website on family planning in the DRC, to literature reviews on policy, to crunching
numbers for the various research activities. This work serves as an excellent training
ground to enter the ranks of the “Tulane Mafia” worldwide.