For Sunil Parikh global health work runs in the family. While growing up, he traveled with his parents to rural areas of India and China while his father, who was a cardiologist, tended to those communities with little access to health care. “Those trips had a big impact on forming my outlook of the world and my career,” says Parikh. “I was both impressed and saddened by what I saw at such a young age.”
Through travel during his high school years to small villages and hospitals, mostly in Africa, Parikh saw the impact – or lack thereof – of medical care on both urban and rural communities. Wanting to contribute to better access for basic health needs, he enrolled in medical school. In India, he spent time working in a government hospital witnessing the impact of infectious diseases, particularly malaria and other parasitic infections, on the population. Parikh had his first field-based research experience in Peru conducting a study on the effect of nutritional supplementation on the disease. “That experience sealed the deal,” he says. “The opportunity to work every day in villages interacting with families in the middle of Amazon basin really spoke to me as a human and a physician.”
Parikh says his choice of work wasn’t always easy, he faced challenges trying to build a career that would be based in the field and also in a university laboratory – which is what led him to Yale. “I was attracted to Yale by the number of researchers in so many disciplines supported by deans and department chairs to work in the areas that are actually being affected by infectious diseases.”
Twenty years later, Parikh has expanded his work to Uganda, Burkina Faso and Cameroon. His team has also expanded their research to examine potential treatments for co-circulating epidemics, such as malaria and HIV and developing and implementing new technology to better prevent and treat these diseases. He says the number of people passing away from malaria around the world is sobering and nearly every one of those deaths could be prevented with the proper infrastructure in place.
As a practicing physician, Parikh says his goal is to not just treat the individual patient but the population as a whole. To do that, he needs to get answers that impact policy change. In order to make positive changes, he says we need to realize that we are there to help other populations -- not take over. “I always try to keep in mind that we must partner with communities and in-country scientists to provide the tools and assistance that works within their cultures. That is the only, and best, way to make significant and sustainable change. It has to be a two-way partnership.”