Global Health

Q&A with Alexis Mwanza Kabongo, MPH Candidate in Global Health, Rotary Peace Fellow

Meet Alexis Mwanza Kabongo

We at Research, Innovation and Global Solutions, interviewed Alexis Mwanza Kabongo about his professional background prior to Gillings including his work managing health activities and coordinating a malaria project in the DRC, work with UNC IDEEL, his MPH program, and what global health means to him.

What was your background prior to coming to Gillings?

I am a medical doctor with 8 years of work in public health in the DR Congo. I started my career as an MD in a general hospital treating displaced people and, in the meantime, I was medical chief officer (médecin chef de zone) managing all the health zone activities for three years after. Then for 2 years I worked as a project coordinator for a malaria project (PMI) in a malaria endemic zone coordinating 20 health zones in prevention and treatment of malaria, and capacity building of health workers. At this position I trained and used community health workers for malaria treatment and prevention. Then for one year and half, I worked as a field director for Ebola research for the University of California Los Angeles/DRC. The most challenging part of this position was to find people who survived 40 years ago the first Ebola outbreak in DR Congo in 1976 (UCLA research team finds that Ebola survivors retain immunity). Before leaving the DR Congo, I worked for one year as a technical advisor managing drug supply chain for a project funded by the UK government. Before starting my MPH program at UNC, I worked as lab technician for IDEEL (Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Ecology Lab) running DNA for malaria samples from Malawi and Tanzania.

Can you tell us what your favorite class of your first year of the MPH program was?

For the first semester my favorite class was the MHCH 780: Cultural Humility. As a future public health professional, I will have to work in different cultural settings around the world. This class taught me how to know more about my own culture and how to learn more about other cultures. The more people will understand that our cultural differences are not a weakness but a strength, the barrier between the global North and global South will progressively loosen and the work of public global health practitioners will be better.

Will you tell us more about your research interests in global health?

I always think that the community involvement in their own healthcare solution is the best way of improving the primary healthcare system. Being a Rotary Peace Fellow, I also think that involving the community in the peacebuilding process is the best way to claim a sustainable peace. So, my research interest is to think how the community health workers can be used to improve healthcare access and peace. I like to be called Mr community health worker (CHW).

Will you tell us more about your work with the Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Ecology Lab?

With the IDEEL I worked as a lab technician. My job was to extract DNA and run PCRs (Polymerase Chain Reactions) from samples coming from Malawi and Tanzania. With these DNA and PCRs we could determine who is the hidden reservoir of plasmodium falciparum in Malawi. This information will guide public health workers in their intervention to eradicate malaria. A lot of people think that plasmodium falciparum is the only one causing malaria, but with our work at the IDEEL lab we determine the prevalence of the non-falciparum plasmodium.

What does “global health” mean to you?

To me Global Health means to provide access to good healthcare for everyone worldwide despite their race, sex, sex orientation, country, income, religion, political choice or whatever can differentiate people.

What drew you to the Gillings School of Global Public Health?

My last boss in Congo is an alumnus from the Gillings School of Global Public Health. He used to tell everyone in the office such good things about UNC, and by chance I moved to North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I decided to learn English and to apply for this great University. I was lucky.

What is your dream job?

My dream job is working in any low- or middle-income countries (LMICs) as a Project Manager with the community health workers. I would like to work in any global health project that involves the intervention of CHWs.

What is the most valuable thing you’ve ever read and why?

In the Cultural Humility class during the 2022 Fall semester, I read the article, Caught between a rock and a hard place: navigating global research partnerships in the global South as an indigenous researcher. This article was valuable because it explained the hard way research from the South undergo during their career. Once in my career I was between a rock and a hard place. The choice may be hard between protecting your fragile career and doing what is right.