komal-kumar

Komal Kumar

Komal Kumar obtained her MPH in Epidemiology & Biostatistics from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a researcher, public health advocate, and a 2017-2018 Fulbright Scholar to South Africa.

http://www.koandkompany.com

The HIV Organ Policy Equity Act: Spreading HOPE

I pushed down on the edge of the worn fabric of the auditorium seat and felt the metal frame push back on my fingertips. The white foam of the cushion peeked through the red threads of the dusty seat. Scanning across the auditorium, my eyes took note of the press personnel and cameras pointed towards the stage. I sat in awe during the live media briefing where my mentors announced that the first HIV-to-HIV liver transplant in the world was just successfully performed at our transplant center. “In 2008, Dr. Elmi Muller was the first surgeon in the world to perform HIV positive-to-HIV positive deceased donor kidney transplantation.” In 2008, Dr. Elmi Muller was the first surgeon in the world to perform HIV positive-to-HIV positive (HIV-to-HIV) deceased donor kidney transplantation. Recognizing the tremendous impact this could have in the US, my research group (Epidemiology Research Group in Organ Transplantation, ERGOT) wrote the landmark HIV Organ Policy Equity Act (HOPE Act), which reversed a long outdated ban on HIV-to-HIV organ transplantation, created in the 1980s. ERGOT shepherded the passage of the HOPE Act through Congressional and Presidential approval in November 2013. “Signed into law November 2013 and implemented in November 2015, the HOPE Act opened the door for HIV-positive candidates to receive and donate organs.” Today, HOPE transplants are taking place in the US, UK, and South Africa. For World’s AIDS Day 2018,...

The Media & Medicine Movement

I was honored to be one of this year’s Donate Life Hollywood featured projects for my documentary film, In Absence of Evidence. But what I was even more privileged to be a part of was the media and medicine movement. Many in and outside of medicine enjoy watching medical dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, and ER, to name a few. But as they continue in their studies as medical professionals, they also begin to realize how inaccurate the shows can be. Donate Life Hollywood (DLH) is a national campaign serving as a liaison between the organ, eye, and tissue donation community and the entertainment industry. Their goal is to help Hollywood write authentic and positive donation and transplant storylines by simplifying access to expert consultation, spotlighting dramatic stories, and featuring medical breakthroughs in an accurate way. “Research shows that when television shows perpetuate myths about donation, they cost lives.” Research shows that when television shows perpetuate myths about donation, they cost lives. During its original tenure, Donate Life Hollywood built a partnership that led to a 6 percent increase in the public’s willingness to register as donors, the largest single-year increase the Donate Life community has ever seen. “An alliance between journalists and scientists should be about celebrating the creativity of the human mind. It should be about fostering critical thinking and valuing vetted knowledge.” A recent and...

A Vignette from Haiti

I am a huge proponent of hands-on experiences, activities outside of the classroom, and pursuing your hobbies. I spent a month providing health care in the villages of Gros Morne and Miragoane two years after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. During my time there, I screened children in schools and villages that hadn’t seen health care in years. Seeing the public health issues in a developing country first hand was a life changing experience; one that cannot be matched by merely reading or watching the news. The houses and buildings that once stood were mere piles of rubble on the side of the street. The children I saw suffered from a wide range of disease – everything from crush injuries to ringworm. Children roamed the streets with no shoes and no pants, and just a ripped shirt on their backs. We were able to see and treat close to 400 children a day suffering from common conditions: scabies, ringworm, and malnutrition, to name a few. During the day, I had the chance to interact with children patiently lined up in the clinic waiting to be screened. While I cleaned wounds or gave medication they would teach me Creole. I spent my days repeating “un grenn pa jou” as I provided the packet of medications they would take home with them. “Un grenn pa jou” At night I was welcomed...

The Role of Social Support in Medicine

I sat attentively at the renal replacement meetings in South Africa where difficult decisions were made weekly. I quietly waited, pen and paper on my lap, as the social worker, dietician, nephrologists, nurses, residents, and fellows filed in to get a seat in the conference room.   Over the last five years, I have spent my postgraduate training exploring ways to increase access to and equity in organ transplantation. I, therefore, sat bewildered as I witnessed patients being denied access due to a lack of social support.   At this meeting, the transplant candidates were determined if they would end up on the waiting list. In this particular case, it was decided to deny a medically suitable patient a spot on dialysis. In South Africa, for patients without medical insurance, dialysis is an extremely limited resource. For patients to be accepted for dialysis, they are assessed both from a medical and social point of view. They need to be deemed good transplant candidates; be medically well, have good social support to ensure that they will come for their post-operative appointments, and adhere to the medicine regimen so as to not reject their newly transplanted kidney.   The medically suitable patient presented during the meeting was denied because they did not meet the social criteria. However unfortunate, this approach is employed to ensure that not only are patients given the...

Learning a Foreign Language in a Foreign Land

At our pre-departure Fulbright orientation, we had a stimulating lecture on ‘your identity abroad’. I was fascinated by the conversation that ensued but did not realize that it would apply to me directly. The racial categories South Africa were different than any other country I had experienced before. According to the 2011 Census, South Africans were categorized as ‘Black African’ at 80.2%, ‘White’ at 8.4%, ‘Coloured’ (multiracial) at 8.8%, ‘Indian’ at 2.5%, and ‘Other’ at 0.5%. When people saw me, they quickly categorized me as ‘Coloured’. When they heard me speak, my accent made it was clear that I was a foreigner. And when I finally told them I was Indian, they didn’t believe me. Before last year, I never thought that critically about my ethnicity, my identity, and what it meant to me until it was challenged. It wasn’t until others began to categorize me into groups, that I realized identifying as Indian American woman was essential to who I am and what I stand for. To me, Cape Agulhas, the point at which the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, isn’t just a location, it is a reflection. “To me, Cape Agulhas, the point at which the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, isn’t just a location, it is a reflection.”   My decision to take a beginners’ Xhosa class at the University of Cape Town in my...

A Lesson from Research: One Size Does Not Fit All

My time working in and navigating medical spaces within historically complex cities, Cape Town and Baltimore, has enabled me to comprehend diseases within a larger context- one that encompasses, not isolates, social issues. The reality of medicine is that patients do not have medical problems in isolation. The medical problems with which patients present occur in the context of their daily lives that are influenced to varying degrees by social, economic, and psychological factors. In Cape Town, at that time, it was often issues of transportation and water restrictions that determined both access to and the availability of healthcare. “My time working in and navigating medical spaces within historically complex cities has enabled me to comprehend diseases within a larger context- one that encompasses, not isolates, social issues.” I walked into the HIV clinic excited to meet the next batch of patients I would recruit for my study. But as I started to get set up in the usually packed clinic, every seat was empty. I can recall being confused and curious while waiting in the typically congested HIV clinic to see it barren. I looked around trying to find someone who knew where the patients were or if I had missed something. Was it a national holiday I didn’t know about? Is there a workshop for these patients happening somewhere else in the hospital? I waited for an...

When the Baton is Passed to the Echo Boomers

When a baton is passed in a relay, there is a brief moment where both hands are on the baton. It is in those moments, as the baton is passed from the baby boomers to the echo boomers, where conduction occurs.   An echo boomer, Cassandra Batson, is coordinating the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS) first-ever High School STEM day. On Wednesday, November 21st, 2018, students from 9th grade through the 12th grade will participate in a scientific conference that will allow them to engage in and recognize the real-world connections of STEM beyond the walls of the classroom.   I was lured into participating for many reasons, but mainly as a budding female scientist myself I wanted to use my novice voice to inspire other rookie females into careers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. “…when you educate a woman you educate a generation” –African Proverb I not only agreed to participate in the High School STEM Day myself but also was inspired during preparation for the day to highlight her efforts as a way to continue to the dialogue of exposing youth to STEM careers in revolutionizing ways.   Shout out to a few leading ladies in STEM: Jean Fan, Founder of https://custemized.org/. CuSTEMized engages, encourages, and empowers young girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math by providing them with tangible products and educational experiences that foster a positive...

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