Q&A with Pride Chigwedere: Examining African AIDS Policies

Dr. Pride Chigwedere is Senior Advisor to the African Union, UNAIDS Liaison Office to the African Union, and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. He earned a doctorate from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in 2008 and in 2105 was awarded the Emerging Public Health Professional alumni award. A native of Zimbabwe, Chigwedere is now based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He answered questions from Martha Henry, HAI’s Director of Communications.

What are the responsibilities of your job?

I play a leadership role in counseling the African Union (AU) and its organs on AIDS and health, working closely with and strengthening continental mechanisms such as AIDS Watch Africa, the African Peer Review Mechanism, statutory AU Forums (Heads of States Summits, Conference of African Ministers of Health etc.) and the Organization of African First Ladies Against AIDS.

As a student, you worked with Max Essex, Chair of the Harvard AIDS Initiative. How did you end up at Harvard?

Max was doing work on AIDS in southern Africa, my interest area, so it was natural for me to work for him. In fact, Max reached out to me in Zimbabwe and recruited and sponsored me to learn about the research work he was doing. I had no dreams of coming to Harvard then.

Max was your mentor. Describe that relationship.

I benefited from being given flexibility to learn not only form Max’s lab but to explore the whole HSPH community and indeed other Harvard schools. My thesis committee ended up with a philosopher (Norman Daniels), a human rights lawyer (Sophia Gruskin), and epidemiologist (George Seage), and IID [Immunology and Infectious Disease] professors Max and Tun-Hou Lee. I feel that the mentoring I got was broad and wholesome. Now as a public health practitioner, I can approach policy questions with sound knowledge of the science, economics, politics and other considerations. Max facilitated all. He was patient with me because in the process of learning diverse methods and content, I was confused half the time about what my work and contributions would be.

(l to r) Iyorlumun Uhaa, UNICEF Representative to the African Union; Max Essex, Harvard AIDS Initiative; Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director; and Pride Chigwedere at a meeting for African Leaders in Addis Ababa, Februrary 2106. Photo by Aida Muluneh for UNAIDS.
(l to r) Iyorlumun Uhaa, UNICEF Representative to the African Union; Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director; Max Essex, Harvard AIDS Initiative; and Pride Chigwedere at a meeting for African Leaders in Addis Ababa, February 2106. Photo by Aida Muluneh for UNAIDS

Briefly describe your paper about the number of deaths attributable to Mbeki’s HIV/AIDS policy in South Africa.

 We argued that the Mbeki government took decisions that hampered the provision of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs in South Africa. Using modeling, we compared the number of persons who received ARVs for treatment and prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission between 2000 and 2005 with an alternative of what was reasonably feasible in the country during that period. We concluded that more than 330,000 lives were lost because a feasible and timely ARV treatment program was not implemented in South Africa.

How did you develop the idea for that paper?

I had vague ideas about a concept that I wanted to label “Public Health Malpractice” and even attempted writing a paper on it. Upon review and discussion with Max, he indicated that I would make the argument best if I had a concrete case study, rather than the rhetorical approach I had taken. Secondly, he guided me to South Africa as the better case study compared to the other countries I was considering. I then did the work and Max, together with my thesis committee, supervised the whole process. Without the guidance on how to approach the argument I wanted to make and direction towards the appropriate case, I would never have written the groundbreaking paper.

Title Image: Tola Ladejobi MPH ’09 (left) and Harvard Chan Acting Dean David Hunter (right) present the Emerging Public Health Professional Award to Pride Chigwedere (center). Photo by Kent Dayton