One Man Can Change the World: Neurologist Inspires Advocacy Community

June 4, 2008


By Kinfe Gebeyehu, MD, MPH, FAAP
Author Disclosure

In the words of the oft-quoted Margaret Mead, never underestimate that "a small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Enawgaw Mehari, MD, is an example of how a single man can change the world in which he lives.

Dr. Mehari

A native of Ethiopia, Dr. Mehari completed his medical training in Czechoslovakia, then moved to Canada and later to the United States, where he did his residency in medicine at the University of Kentucky and fellowship in Neurology at Case Western University in Cleveland and Washington University in St. Louis. An enduring desire to help the Ethiopian people remained with him throughout his medical career.

When he was chosen to co-host a United Nations–sponsored international meeting in Ethiopia on the challenges of HIV/AIDS in Africa in 1999, Dr. Mehari realized how he could focus his efforts to help his country. Later that year–after bringing a group of American physicians to Ethiopia to see the horrors of neurological conditions inflicted by AIDS–Dr. Mehari was inspired to create People to People, which began by raising money to help support nearly one thousand children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. Since its founding, People to People has grown from a grassroots humanitarian effort to a 5,000-member organization with representation all over the world.

Boarding school for girls

Dr. Mehari's motivation came from his own experience as a neurologist from Ethiopia who could not forget the plight of the 80 million countrymen he left behind. As a result of Dr. Mehari's leadership and support from other displaced Ethiopian health care professionals, a number of award-winning programs were developed, serving to inspire all who are involved in advocacy work.

People to People has initiated or provided support for many international programs, including:

  • Development of a neurology training program in a country where, formerly, there had been only eight neurologists and two neurosurgeons serving a population of 80 million
  • Creation of a collaborative project between Addis Ababa University and the World Bank to share knowledge and technology between the Diaspora and physicians in Ethiopia
  • Design and maintenance of a blog accessible to healthcare and social service professionals all over the world, serving as a forum for the exchange of ideas particularly for displaced Ethiopians
  • Promotion of reproductive health through a youth health program in Canada
  • Establishment of an educational program for elementary and high school students about HIV prevention
  • Provision of the antifungal fluconazole by Pfizer to the Ministry of Health in Ethiopia for combating systemic fungal infections in AIDS patients
  • Launch of a vocational training program for AIDS orphans, many of whom raise their siblings on their own
  • Foundation of a boarding school for young female AIDS orphans, providing education and skills for income generation
  • Publication of the first-ever regional, peer-reviewed scientific journal devoted to HIV/AIDS in East Africa, offered free of charge to the health care professionals of East Africa

These very disparate programs–instigated through the vision and dedication of a single individual motivated by a sense of responsibility and desire to pay back his country–serve as an example that leadership, altruism, and enthusiasm are a powerful combination.

Read more about Dr. Mehari's work and People To People.

Author Disclosure

Dr. Gebeyehu has served as Associate Editor of People to People's Horn of Africa Journal of AIDS in the last 24 months. In addition, within the last five years he has received travel support from World Bank International for the "Diaspora Knowledge and Technology Transfer" project.