From the February 2016 issue of The Rotarian
Adrien Lokangaka grew up in a small village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He lacked many things – but when he needed it, he had medicine.
Areas of focus: Saving mothers and children, fighting disease
Location: Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
Peace Center: Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2012-14
“As a child, I suffered from amebic dysentery, a disease that could have taken my life,” he says. “Fortunately for me, a Catholic brother gave my uncle the proper medicine, and that medicine saved my life. That’s when I decided that I should be a doctor and help sick people too.”
Medical school is a big dream for anyone, but for a poor boy in a poor country, it was stratospheric. Lokangaka persisted. He chopped and sold wood to pay for his grade school and high school education. An uncle stepped in to fund his university tuition; still, to make ends meet, Lokangaka typed papers for other students and taught English in his spare time.
After graduating from medical school in 2008, Lokangaka joined the Kinshasa School of Public Health, motivated by the poverty and disease he saw as a child – particularly the many deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth. There, he developed his interest in public health. “As a physician, the goal is to help people. If I were a medical practitioner, I could help one person at a time, but not many,” he explains. “I wanted to have a greater impact.”
That desire led him to work on research projects with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Those projects’ goals included improving the newborn resuscitation skills of rural birth attendants, an effort that reduced perinatal mortality by 15 percent.
Carl Bose, a UNC professor of neonatal-perinatal medicine, noticed Lokangaka’s hard work and offered to help him earn yet another degree, a master’s in public health. That’s how Lokangaka came to be awarded a 2012 Rotary Peace Fellowship to support his studies at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, and to receive his degree in 2014.
What does public health have to do with peace? Everything, Lokangaka says: “[Congo] is a country that has been devastated by war. People need not only the end of war, but they also want to be free from the consequences of war, and one of those is bad health. I am helping to improve health outcomes among the population, so that they may be at peace with themselves.”
Lokangaka’s current work includes a project to improve maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy for healthier newborns and an initiative to train rural nurses to use ultrasounds so they can diagnose pregnancy-related complications. He plans to explore ways to prevent dangerous conditions such as pre-eclampsia.
“I am an ordinary person, but Rotary has given me an extraordinary opportunity,” Lokangaka says. “I will always be grateful, and I am determined to use my skills for the benefit of society, as I promised.”