September 13, 2023 – The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Alumni Association recently announced the recipients of the 2023 Alumni Awards, who were chosen by their peers through a nomination and voting process. Below are excerpts from the biographies of the winners. The awards will be presented during this year’s Alumni Weekend, which takes place September 28-30.
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ALUMNI AWARD OF MERIT
Established in 1992, the Alumni Award of Merit is the highest honor presented by the Alumni Association to an alumna/us of Harvard Chan School.
Megan Murray, MPH ’97, SD ’01
Megan Murray has dedicated her four-decade career to improving people’s lives through groundbreaking—and actionable—research.
One of the world’s leading experts on tuberculosis, she conducted studies that changed how we treat the disease, including by challenging the long-held assumption that drug-resistant TB was less transmissible and by investigating risk factors such as micronutrient deficiencies and diabetes.
After completing her medical training at Harvard Medical School, Murray earned an MPH and an SD from Harvard Chan School. She serves as a professor at both schools, and has led field studies all over the globe to better understand infectious diseases and promote the health of vulnerable populations.
Murray is always ready to lend her expertise to health emergencies as well, like when she helped evaluate the efficiency of a new rapid test to diagnose Ebola during the 2014-2016 outbreak in Western Africa.
Stephen Tollman, MPH ’88
As a medical student in South Africa under apartheid, Stephen Tollman saw first-hand the impact that state-sanctioned discrimination could have on health and human rights. This sparked a career contributing to solutions founded on health equity and social justice in his own country and sub-Saharan Africa.
As a young researcher, early in the HIV/AIDS epidemic under the presidency of AIDS denialist Thabo Mbeki, Tollman learned that a robust evidence and evaluation base is critical in motivating for change that is successfully translated into programs.
In 1992 he founded Agincourt, a longitudinal R&D system that has become a world-renowned model for population-based research, bringing the best science to communities in need.
Since the 1990s, Tollman has helped strengthen South and sub-Saharan Africa’s research capacity by generating significant funds for research, training local public health leaders, and co-founding the INDEPTH Network, a research network and population-based platform.
Anita Zaidi, SM ’99
For Anita Zaidi, being first is nothing new.
Zaidi was part of the first graduating class of doctors at Aga Khan University (AKU) in her native Pakistan, receiving the school’s inaugural “Best Medical Graduate Award.” She became AKU’s first female chair of pediatrics, established South Asia’s first training program in pediatric infectious diseases as a clinical specialty, and won the first $1 million Caplow Children’s Prize to support her efforts to reduce child mortality in Rehri Goth, a poor suburb of Karachi.
These days, Zaidi is taking on a new first. In 2020, she became the first-ever president of Gender Equality at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where she leads the foundation’s work to create a gender-equal world by investing in women’s economic empowerment, leadership, and more.
Emerging Public Health Professional Award
The Emerging Public Health Professional Award recognizes early-career public health achievements and contributions of Harvard Chan School graduates who received their degree within the past 10 years.
Michael Miedema, MPH ’13
Michael Miedema is constantly exploring new ways to promote heart health.
The Minnesota physician serves as the Medical Director for the Nolan Family Center for Cardiovascular Health at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation—just one of his long and varied professional roles. Beyond his work with the Nolan Family Center and his own clinical work, Miedema has authored or co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts, serves as an active investigator for randomized trials focused on cardiovascular health, and supports a population-based program designed to reduce cardiovascular risk in a rural Minnesota town.
Miedema is also committed to translating his findings for the public. He frequently presents on heart health and is an associate editor on educational content for the American College of Cardiology’s website.
PUBLIC HEALTH INNOVATOR AWARD
The Public Health Innovator Award recognizes a significant innovative contribution to public health made by a distinguished graduate of the School.
Diagaunet Dodie, MPH ’14
Diagaunet Dodie is helping to solve the blood shortage problem in his nation, Ivory Coast.
When his father experienced kidney failure in 2019, Dodie witnessed the consequences of illegal blood trafficking in his country, which prices out vulnerable populations. The following year, Dodie created Innovative Healthcare Solutions (IHS) to tackle the challenge using strategies he learned at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Dodie convinced the national blood bank to partner with IHS to improve its performance. He also secured financing from the World Bank to learn more about the nation’s blood collection and distribution system. He and his team turned a media spotlight on the shortages and the resulting tragedies. Then in 2022, in the face of public pressure, the Ivorian government dropped the price of a blood bag from as high as $150, to $6, saving lives.
Leadership in Public Health Practice Award
This award recognizes a graduate who has been an outstanding example of effective leadership in the practice of public health, in the public or private sphere.
Thumbi Ndung’u, PhD ’01
At the heart of Thumbi Ndung’u’s outstanding scientific leadership is a lifelong enthusiasm for innovation.
After graduating with a veterinary medicine degree from the University of Nairobi, Ndung’u earned a doctorate from Harvard Chan School as well as our Edgar Haber Award for outstanding creative thesis work in biological sciences.
Now deputy director at the African Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, Ndung’u’s career contributions in HIV and TB research have advanced and deepened the pursuit of vaccine and immune-based cure strategies. His multidisciplinary studies link immunology to virology and offer a platform for clinical interventions toward cure and eradication strategies.
Meanwhile, his medical knowledge, teaching skills, and ability to think creatively have been passed on to the dozens of students and postdoctoral researchers he has mentored, and through more than 200 papers in peer-reviewed journals in the fields of immunology and virology.
–Giulia Cambieri, Meg Murphy, Jeff Sobotko