10 Global Health Leaders that Prove #28DaysAreNotEnough

By Minal Bopaiah

The contributions of African Americans to the global health field have been wide and varied. We put together a list of 10 of these brilliant scientists, physicians and inventors, all who have made a huge impact on the progress of public health.

Mae_C._JemisonMae Carol Jemison, MD (b. 1956)

You may know Mae Jemison as the first African American female astronaut, but did you know she is also a longstanding contributor to global health and development? After graduating from Cornell’s medical school in 1981, Jemison signed up for the Peace Corp, serving as an area medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia from 1983 to 1985. And after her stint at NASA, she founded The Jemison Group, Inc., which developed ALAFIYA, a satellite-based telecommunications systems intended to improve health care delivery in developing nations.

Eric Goosby, MD (b. 1952)

Eric_GoosbyIn January, 2015, Eric Goosby was named the United Nations’ Special Envoy on Tuberculosis,but in the 1980s, while working in San Francisco’s General Hospital, he  was on the frontlines of HIV/AIDS diagnosis and care. He eventually became the associate medical director of the hospital’s AIDS clinic. In 1991, he began his career in government, and was appointed as the US Global AIDS Coordinator in 2009. He served until 2013, leading President Obama’s implementation of PEPFAR funding.

Helene D. Gayle, MD, MPH (b. 1955)

Helene_D._GayleCalled one of the top global thinkers in the world by Newsweek and Foreign Policy, Helene Gayle has been serving as president and CEO of CARE USA since 2006. Previous to that, she directed the HIV, TB, and Reproductive Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and spent 20 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), focusing primarily on HIV/AIDS. Gayle also served as the AIDS coordinator and chief of the HIV/AIDS division for the U.S. Agency for International Development. In 2014, Forbes listed her as the 78th most powerful woman in the world.

Patricia Era BathPatricia Era Bath, MD (b. 1942)

From being the first woman to serve on staff of the Julian Stein Eye Institute to co-founding the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, ophthalmologist Patricia Bath knows how to break ground. She is also the first African-American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical device, the Laserphaco Probe, a device used to treat cataracts.

Jewel Plummer Cobb, PhD (b. 1924)

Jewel Plummer Cobb has been a major influencer and thought leader in the sciences for the past 65 years. She earned her PhD in cell physiology from New York University in 1950, and her research focused on the relationship between melanin and skin damage. Cobb’s most notable discovery was the efficacy of methotrexate in the treatment of certain skin cancers, lung cancers, and childhood leukemia.

A huge supporter of equal educational and professional opportunity for diverse populations, Cobb writes often about racial and sexual discrimination in the sciences, and raises funds to allow more minorities to enter into the field.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD (1831 – 1895)

Most introductions to women’s studies mention Elizabeth Blackwell, the first white woman to earn a medical degree in the United States back in 1849. But quick on her heels was Rebecca Lee (later Crumpler), who earned her medical degree in 1864 from New England Female Medical College.  She focused her practice on poor women and children, first in Boston and then in Richmond, Virginia after the Civil War ended. She also worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau to provide medical care to freed slaves, and wrote A Book of Medical Discourses (1883), one of the first books written by an African American about medicine.

Daniel Hale Williams, MD (1856 – 1931)

Daniel_Hale_WilliamsAn African-American general surgeon who performed the second successful pericardium surgery to repair a wound, Daniel Hale Williams was also a conscientious citizen, keenly aware of the lack of facilities for training African Americans as doctors and nurses. Thus, in 1891, he founded Provident Hospital, the first hospital in the United States with a racially integrated staff.

In 1894, Williams was appointed the chief surgeon of the Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, DC, which provided care for formerly enslaved African Americans. The following year he founded the professional organization National Medical Association, an alternative to the American Medical Association, which did not admit African Americans as members. (The NMA has its own list of notable black Americans in medicine that’s worth checking out!)

200px-Charles_R_Drew_portraitCharles Richard Drew, MD, MS, Sc.D (1904 –  1950)

Charles Richard Drew was an American physician, surgeon, and medical researcher whose primary work focused on blood transfusions. He developed a means of preserving blood plasma for transfusions, a technique that saved countless lives during World War II due to the development of large scale blood banks. In fact, Drew was the director of the first American Red Cross Blood Bank. He also protested against racial segregation in the donation of blood.

Lloyd Augustus Hall (1894 – 1971)

While Lloyd Augustus Hall’s main contribution was to the science of food preservation by improving curing salts, his research and methods were eventually applied to the sterilization of medicine and medical supplies. Hall was the first African American elected to the National Board of Directors of the American Institute of Chemists and worked as a consultant for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. In addition, President John F. Kennedy appointed Hall to the American Food for Peace Council, on which he served from 1962 to 1964.

Percy Lavon Julian, PhD (1899 – 1975)

Percy_Lavon_JulianBorn to former slaves, Percy Lavon Julian is regarded as one of the most influential chemists in American history. His first notable accomplishment was the synthesis of physostigmine from the calabar bean to create a drug treatment for glaucoma. The research should have earned him a tenure position, but DePauw University refused to make him a full professor because of his race. Julian left academia and began work at Glidden Company, where he eventually discovered ways to synthesize the hormones progesterone and testosterone, paving the way for oral contraceptives. In 1953 he established his own company, Julian Laboratories, which he sold in 1961, making him one of the first black millionaires.