UPMC Fellow Finds Medical Calling in Malawi

By: Courtney Caprara

A UPMC cardiology fellow has become the only cardiologist in the eighth poorest country in the world.

Anil Purohit, M.D., this week is making his second trip to Malawi, a sub-Saharan African nation that he previously visited during his internal medicine residency. While there the first time, he saw a lack of health care workers, limited access to medical care, a high rate of HIV infections, and a lack of basic necessities like food, clean water and shelter. He was even recruited to help deliver babies in rooms with no electricity.

That trip changed Dr. Purohit’s outlook on health care.

“In the midst of residency, sometimes the reason you decided to become a doctor gets lost,” he said. “You get caught up in moving to the next level, and it took my experience in Malawi to bring me back. I knew I wanted to return one day and make a huge change.”

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The hospital in Malawi where Dr. Purohit is working.

Through inspiration and motivation from the Heart and Vascular Institute at UPMC, Dr. Purohit opted to pursue a fellowship in cardiology. His mentors  – Joon Lee, M.D, co-director, UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, and Steve Reis, M.D., professor, Division of Cardiology – motivated him to pursue his interest in global health. Through their support, he applied for the highly prestigious Fogarty Global Health Clinical Scholars fellowship and was selected as one of only 20 participants nationwide.

Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the program gives post-doctoral fellows with an interest in global health the opportunity to spend one year working in a developing country.

In Malawi, Dr. Purohit will use his clinical training in cardiology as well as portable ultrasound technology to conduct research on the effects of aspirin as a primary preventive strategy against cardiovascular disease in patients who are HIV positive. In addition to his research efforts, Dr. Purohit will provide patient care in a clinic two days a week.

While participating in a week-long orientation at the NIH in Washington, D.C., Dr. Purohit had the opportunity to speak with key influencers in the area of health policy and research, including Francis Collins M.D., Ph.D., the director of the NIH, and Roger Glass, M.D., head of the Fogarty International Wing of the NIH.

“You need money, resources and awareness to ultimately make a difference,” Dr. Purohit said. “If cardiologists don’t conduct research in resource poor settings like Malawi, 20 years from now we will see so many unnecessary deaths that could be prevented.” Dr. Purohit hopes to one day bring a medical perspective to policy-making so he can help to make further advancements in global health.

He also wants his time in Malawi to raise awareness of the many issues surrounding global health. Easily accessible medical care can be taken for granted in the United States, but it is unavailable in Malawi and other developing countries, he said. He hopes that his journey inspires other medical professionals interested in global health to seek out opportunities for grants and fellowships so that they can also make a difference for people all over the world.

In order to participate in the Fogarty Fellowship Program, Dr. Purohit is taking time off from his fellowship at UPMC, which he will be able to resume upon his return next year. Dr. Purohit hails from Irmo, S.C., where he completed his undergraduate degree at the University of South Carolina Honors College. He attended medical school at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston before completing his residency at UPMC.