US President Joe Biden has appointed Dr. Raj Panjabi, an Indian-origin public health professional, to lead his Malaria Initiative which aims to control and eliminate the disease in African and Asian countries.
Born in Liberia, Panjabi and his family fled the country during its civil war and arrived in the United States as refugees in the 1990s.
“After being sworn in this morning, I’m honored to share that I’ve been appointed by Biden as the president’s Malaria Coordinator to lead the US president’s Malaria Initiative. I’m grateful for this chance to serve,” Panjabi, 39, said on Twitter.
“My family and I arrived in America 30 years ago after fleeing civil war in Liberia. A community of Americans rallied around my family to help us build back our lives. It’s an honour to serve the country that helped build back my own life as part of the Biden-Harris Administration, he said.
In the face of an “unprecedented” crisis, Panjabi said he was humbled by the challenges the US the world faced to build back better.
“But as I have learned in America: we are not defined by the conditions we face, we are defined by how we respond,” he said in a series of tweets.
As a doctor and public health professional who has cared for patients alongside the staff of the President’s Malaria Initiative and its partners the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Center for Disease Control, Panjabi said: “I’ve been inspired by how they’ve responded to fight malaria, one of the oldest and deadliest pandemics, and saved lives around the world.”
He said this mission is personal for him.
The US President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), launched in 2005, supports 24 partner countries in sub-Saharan Africa and three programmes in the Greater Mekong Subregion in Southeast Asia to control and eliminate malaria.
“My grandparents and parents were infected with malaria while living in India. As a child in Liberia, I fell sick with malaria, and as a doctor serving in Africa, I have seen this disease take too many lives,” he said. He said he has seen how the Malaria Initiative and its partners have responded with resolve in the countries where it operates.
“I’ve seen the relief on the faces of parents whose children survived malaria because they were treated with medicines and by health workers backed by its support,” he said.
Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus congratulated Panjabi on his appointment.
“Congratulations Raj Panjabi on your appointment as @POTUS Malaria Coordinator for @PMIgov. Together, we can end Malaria!” Ghebreyesus tweeted.
Panjabi fled Liberia during the country’s civil war at age nine, becoming a refugee in the US. He returned to Liberia as a medical student and in 2007, and co-founded Last Mile Health.
He has served as an assistant professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, an associate physician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the CEO and co-founder of Last Mile Health, according to his profile on LinkedIn.
Panjabi and the Last Mile Health team played a key role in the 2013-16 West Africa Ebola epidemic, helping train over a thousand frontline and community health workers and support the government of Liberia to lead its national Ebola Operations Centre. Panjabi delivered testimony on the Ebola epidemic at the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee.
In response to COVID-19, he led Last Mile Health to support governments in Africa to train frontline health workers. He served as the advisor to former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her role as the co-chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response at the World Health Organization (WHO). Panjabi has cared for patients with COVID and urgent care needs.
He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, trained in internal medicine and primary care at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and received a master’s degree in public health in epidemiology from Johns Hopkins. He has served as a faculty member at the Harvard Kennedy School.