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Slug: In the Field

Enawgaw Mehari, MD, Founder of People to People –
Tackling the Spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa

By Elizabeth Stump

Ethiopian-born Enawgaw Mehari, MD, came to the US in
1995 to fulfill his dreams of becoming a neurologist, enrolling
in the University of Kentucky for a neurology residency. But
he never forgot the medical turmoil in Ethiopia after moving
to the US. In 1999, while wrapping up his residency, he
founded People to People USA (P2P), a nonprofit
organization that aims to improve health care and reduce
AIDS in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia.
After graduating, he began practicing neurology with
specialties in pain management and neuro-AIDS at the
Morehead Clinic and St. Claire Regional Medical Center in
Kentucky, where he is now chief of the neurology
department. Meanwhile he has been expanding the services
of P2P, including opening the People’s Free Clinic in
Morehead, KY, in 2005 for the working poor who have no
health insurance — Kentucky has more than 500,000
uninsured people — and a clinic online for anyone anywhere
in the world.
In 2006 Dr. Mehari won a distinguished services award
from the Society of Ethiopians Established in the Diaspora,
and in 2007 he was nominated as a CNN Hero, awarded by
the cable network to everyday people around the globe who
have made a major impact on the world.
In 2008, P2P and Dr. Mehari were officially honored
and presented with a Certificate of Recognition by the
Senate of the Commonwealth of Kentucky for their impact on
local Morehead, KY, and work in Ethiopia.
Dr. Mehari spoke with Neurology Today about his
dedication to P2P and the organization’s strong outreach
programs.

Tell us about the origins of P2P.
P2P USA was founded as a non-governmental, nonprofit
organization to improve health care and reduce the spread
of HIV/AIDS in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, as well as the
diaspora communities in the USA. There are currently
about five thousand members worldwide. The membership is
free and open to anybody — doctors, nonprofessionals —
who want to make a difference in the lives of the people. You
can go to www.peoplepeople.org and become a member.

So I understand P2P has offices around the world?
P2P has now become international, with headquarters in the
US and operating in Ethiopia (the office in Ethiopia is the
focal point of all the satellites in the world), Canada,
Sweden, Finland, Tanzania, Sudan, Somaliland, and
Australia. In 1999, the same year P2P USA was
founded, chapters were formed in Sweden and Canada,
followed by Ethiopia and Finland.
In 2002, P2P established an international discussion
forum on health matters, and currently there are about 2,500
active members from all over the globe who participate in the
discussion every day, sharing their viewpoints and posing
questions.
Our free, Web site-based Virtual Clinic can also be
accessed by anyone from anywhere in the world. Our staff
monitor the site, and anonymously-posted questions are
usually answered by volunteer medical professionals within
a few days. Most questions are HIV/AIDS-related, such as
“Does exercise help a patient with AIDS or will it trigger
some complications?”
Who has been your greatest support and inspiration?
I was inspired by the challenges of medical care in Ethiopia I
witnessed firsthand, particularly families torn apart and
children orphaned by AIDS. My wife and my kids have been
my greatest support, and Dr. Joseph Berger, the chair of
neurology at University of Kentucky, has been an immense
source of energy and helped me to believe nothing is
impossible.

Where does your funding come from?
Funding is always a challenge, and our resources don’t
match our needs. Sources of our funding include Pfizer, the
NIH, the National HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office),
the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Ethiopian Air Lines,
Canadian Embassy in Ethiopia, World Bank, and the
Packard Foundation. We also survive by public donations
and individual support.
We’re both a nonprofit and a volunteer-based
organization, and only the administrative people who
implement the activities are paid.

How do you specifically work towards reducing the
spread of HIV/AIDS and rectifying the stigma of AIDS
through your organization?
We work with anti-AIDS clubs in communities that organize
students to perform AIDS awareness dramas that educate
and amuse schoolchildren, and develop education programs
for high school students about HIV transmission and
prevention by addressing behavioral change and life values.
These projects are well received by both teachers and
students. P2P emphasizes that it is wrong to discriminate
against people based on their diseases, and that we cannot
close our ears and eyes to the challenges of patients with
HIV/AIDS, especially in Africa where the epidemic is so
prevalent.
In 2005, Pfizer Foundation graciously responded to
P2P’s request to freely supply fluconazole, a potent
antifungal drug, to the Ministry of Health in Ethiopia to
distribute to AIDS patients for an unlimited amount and time.
This drug is not easy to acquire in poor countries where
AIDS and complicating infections often occur.

Tell us about the P2P sponsorship program for
Ethiopian children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
More than a million children have been orphaned by
HIV/AIDS, and that number is growing. In collaboration with
the Dawn of Hope and the Association of People with
HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, P2P USA and P2P Canada have
helped over 400 orphans in Ethiopia through a sponsorship
program that covers the immediate needs of a child,
including schooling, and supervision by Ethiopian
organization staff and volunteers.
Sponsors fill out a form on the Web site and send a
monthly $20 (US dollars) money order or check per orphan
to the Orphans Sponsor Program at the P2P US
headquarters, which is wired to the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
P2P branch account. They withdraw funds to make
payments to guardians of selected orphans after they sign a
payment voucher for the month.
As an extension of this program, we established a
boarding school for girls (AIDS orphans) who are in very
good academic standing in Amanuel, in eastern Gojjam,
Ethiopia. Every year we organize a luncheon for AIDS
orphans in Addis Abeba around a major holiday and provide
gifts to the children. This special occasion is attended by top
governmental and non-governmental agencies, United
Nations representatives, and diplomats, which helps to
attract more attention to HIV/AIDS and the orphans.

What other services do you offer?
P2P has served as a bridge between the West and Ethiopia
to transfer knowledge and technology to improve health care
education, training in hospice and palliative care, and
medical research in Africa. In 2006, P2P was instrumental in
establishing a neurology fellowship training program, and we
continue to review curricula for post graduate training.
Our Horn of Africa Journal of AIDS is the first regional,
scientific, peer-reviewed journal devoted to HIV/AIDS,
published biannually and distributed free of charge to the
medical community in Ethiopia and in East Africa.
P2P also believes that patients with terminal illnesses,
regardless to place of residence, deserve high-quality,
compassionate care. Based on this principle, our
organization designed a training workshop for physicians in
Africa on the basic concepts of hospice and palliative care
philosophy. I led a group of physicians and nurses from
Morread, experienced in hospice care, to participate as
trainers in Addis-Abeba, Ethiopia.

Your project to establish a youth and diaspora center in
Addis-Abeba, Ethiopia, was begun last September. How
is this contributing to the well-being of the residents?
P2P USA’s and P2P Canada’s three-year project, “Mobilizing
the Diaspora through a Youth Center in Addis Abeba,” was
funded by the Packard Foundation Population Program to
provide youth with education on reproductive heath, family
planning, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and
HIV/AIDS. For example, the center trains peer educators,
and offers education sessions by partnering with local and
diaspora expert individuals and organizations. The center
trains youth and other individuals in life skills such as CPR
training and computer training, and it serves as a resource
center by providing Internet access, books, and a 24-hour
hotline to identify a center for HIV testing or counseling.
Lastly, the project mobilizes expertise from the diaspora and
facilitates visiting lectureships and internships, such as
visiting diaspora experts offering university students a week
of training in program management.
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For more information on People to People, please visit
www.peoplepeople.org.
The P2P discussion forum can be accessed at
http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/People_to_Peopl
e_Forum/.