All photos/art by Christopher Churchill
Chairman, Adopt a Doctor
Providence, Rhode Island
When 24-year-old Rajiv Kumar shares his memories of Mali, his eyes light up and his hands fly: the locals’ joyous spirit, the amazing music, feeling safe in the village, being treated like family. This West African nation is one of the world’s poorest countries, ravaged by AIDS, and most citizens struggle to receive basic care. In 2006, Rajiv, then a second-year medical student, volunteered at an HIV clinic in the village of Sikoro, one of the poorest parts of the capital city of Bamako.
Educating villagers and distributing free antiretroviral drugs, Rajiv was there partly as an envoy of Adopt a Doctor, a Rhode Island-based nonprofit he has helped lead since 2004. Founded by Ray Rickman, a longtime Ocean State social activist, Adopt a Doctor aims to supplement local physicians’ incomes directly, enabling them to sustain practices in their home countries. Without enough doctors to care for them, 35,000 children under the age of 5 die every day in developing nations from highly treatable diseases, such as pneumonia, diarrheic illnesses, and measles.
Now chairman of Adopt a Doctor, Rajiv says his experience of working conditions in the African countryside deepened his commitment. “When we’d get to the clinic each morning,” he says, “there were sometimes up to 40 women patiently waiting for us, with their children.” He saw how the doctors’ stress levels were compounded by their low wages, leading to their widespread emigration. “There are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago than in Ethiopia,” he notes.
The concept is simple: Donors agree to pay $100 per year for seven years. The entire sum directly supplements a physician’s monthly salary. In Mali, for example, a doctor might earn $50 a month, which doesn’t go far if he or she is also paying $30 a month for housing. “In many cases,” says Rajiv, “we’re tripling, even quadrupling, a doctor’s disposable income.” In turn, each doctor signs an agreement to stay in the country for seven consecutive years.
So far, 16 doctors have been adopted, and a small endowment for the program has been set up. Rajiv is dogged in his fundraising efforts. “I’m giving people the opportunity to do good in the world and giving them my word I will help steward it,” he says. “Most potential donors aren’t as concerned with the actual dollar amount as with how much good it can do, how much value there is.”
Learn more at:401-421-0606; adoptadoctor.org
Closer to home, Rajiv Kumar is also tackling America’s biggest health challenge: obesity. Rajiv is the founder of Shape Up RI, a 16-week program that works with employers and health care providers to encourage participating team members to exercise and eat right. More than 7,000 people took the challenge this year and lost a total of 29,000 pounds. Rajiv is currently studying ways to bring the program to lower-income Rhode Islanders, as well as into schools across the state.
Adopt a Doctor has received funding from the Southeast Asian Student Association and the Howard Swearer Center at Brown University, the Dorm Association at the University of Rhode Island, and the 44-mile Run for Global Health, organized at the University of New England by medical student Dante Leven. Adopt a Doctor has received donations from 45 civic and business groups around New England and has raised funds at 12 public schools over the last three years.