Alumnus Spotlight: It’s All about Impact for Hussain Lalani ‘13

August 16, 2016

“My global health experience at Duke changed my view on life and my understanding of disparity in health care and medicine,” said Hussain Lalani, a 2013 global health certificate alumnus from Dallas, Texas. “There’s a tangible energy for global health at Duke.”

Lalani, who majored in neuroscience, did not have any global health aspirations prior to coming to Duke. His entry point was his desire to reconnect with his roots. 

With a father from Karachi, Pakistan, and a mother who grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, Lalani wanted to learn more about what life was like for his parents and the millions of others living in low-income countries. He was also looking for an opportunity to engage with communities in resource-limited settings in a meaningful way that complemented his interest in medicine. 

Finding His Global Health Niche in Kenya

His first global health experience was a two-month fieldwork project in 2011 in Kunya Village, Kenya, with Mama na Dada, a non-governmental organization that operates the Circle of Hope Day Care and an after school nutrition program for orphans in the village. Under the mentorship of Sumi Ariely, assistant professor of global health, he conducted research to assess the nutritional status and cognitive skills of children in the program and to help evaluate childbirth practices through home-based interviews. 

Unlike many global health students, Lalani hadn’t taken any global health courses prior to his fieldwork. He learned a great deal about global health through his fieldwork and particularly from Ariely’s mentorship. Thereafter, the certificate coursework provided him with concrete structure and research methodology skills and allowed him to explore topics of personal interest.

Back to Duke: Global Health Meets Medicine

In the fall of 2013, Lalani began medical school at Duke. He spent much of the 2015-16 academic year in Eldoret, Kenya, as a Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellow, evaluating critical care outcomes and mortality at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. 

With the mentorship of Peter Kussin, professor of medicine at Duke, Lalani and his team are investigating factors associated with increased odds of mortality. Their goal is to develop a better understanding off the current challenges in critical care in Kenya and to inform future interventions as critical care expands in Eldoret and throughout Kenya. Future efforts will focus on the feasibility of developing site-specific triage metrics to optimally allocate critical care resources. 

“Our project was motivated by the value of understanding the current critical care outcomes and mortality factors in Kenya,” said Lalani, “We’re collaborating with our Kenyan partners to better understand the current situation and to build capacity in ways that will improve outcomes.”

Lalani’s Fieldwork Led to Lasting Relationships 

Meanwhile, Lalani has remained connected to Mama na Dada and some of the children he met during his fieldwork in 2011, through Joyce Oneko, director of Mama na Dada. The organization experienced a significant setback in 2013 when an electrical fire destroyed their administrative office and pre-school, effectively disbanding the program and much of the work they were conducting in the community. 

In late 2015, during his fellowship, Lalani attended a Christmas party in Kunya Village for the children who had participated in the daycare program. This was the first community event hosted by Mama na Dada since the fire. 

Lalani helped assemble the gifts—large bags of maize and millet—and gathered information from attendees in the hopes of restarting the program in the near future. He also helped reinitiate the nutrition-focused project he’d worked on with Mama na Dada by taking anthropometric measures of some of the original children in the daycare program. He plans to help Mama na Dada assess growth trends over time.


Hussain Lalani (far right) at the 2015 Christmas party with many
of the children who participated in the Mama na Dada program in 2011.

Integrating Medicine, Global Health and Public Health

Beginning this summer, Lalani will take a one-year leave from medical school to pursue a Master in Public Health degree at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

After completing the master’s degree, medical school and residency, Lalani sees himself in an academic setting with the long-term goal of working with agencies like USAID or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although he hasn’t worked out the details yet, he has a vision: “My overarching goal is to improve health outcomes and mortality through targeted interventions and to scale effective approaches at the systems level. It's all about impact for me.”

Global Health: An Opportunity for Nearly Everyone 

Lalani is grateful for the global health opportunities and mentors he’s had at Duke. “As a student, it’s empowering to have faculty who are passionate about global health and involve students in a meaningful way,” he reflected.

Lalani encourages students and professionals of all disciplines to get involved in global health. “There’s a tremendous need for people outside of the medical profession—engineers, business experts, economists, nutritionists, social workers, you name it,” he said. “The sooner we can integrate new partners and collaborate to solve global health challenges, the greater our impact will be.”

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Mama na Dada staff and founder, Joyce Oneko, with Hussain at the 2015 Christmas party in Kunya Village, Kenya. (L to R) Jane Odek, Hilda Muia, Joyce Oneko, Eunice Owiti and Hussain Lalani.

My global health experience at Duke changed my view on life and my understanding of disparity in health care and medicine.

Hussain Lalani, 2013 global health certificate alumnus

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