At 27 and with a newly minted PhD, Karidia Diallo joined a small group of CDC laboratorians charged with helping to launch an effort known as the US President’s Emergency plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR.
The year was 2003 and the HIV crisis was at its peak. PEPFAR was charged with bringing lifesaving treatment to as many people as possible in sub-Saharan Africa—the epicenter of the world’s AIDS crisis. But as treatment efforts expanded, it became increasingly clear that weak lab systems were undermining efforts to effectively fight the disease across the continent. Without adequate labs to accurately diagnose and track the disease, frontline healthcare workers didn’t have a chance of winning the fight against this deadly disease.
To tackle this major health challenge, Diallo and her CDC colleagues partnered with Ministries of Health to implement widespread changes. They trained healthcare workers, created new and increasingly effective ways to diagnose patients, improved efforts to monitor the effectiveness of treatment, and launched quality improvement programs that have transformed the laboratory landscape throughout the continent.
Today, Diallo is Chief of the Lab program in South Africa—overseeing one of the most cutting-edge lab efforts in Africa. She is as inspired and passionate as she was those many years ago. “I’ve been so lucky to be a part of an effort that has helped so many people!” she says. “As long as we keep the patient at the center of all we do, we can continue to do great things. We can control this epidemic once and for all.”