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Tribal Matters

Photo by
Bill Denison

For most students, juggling a double major at Johns Hopkins is enough to fill their days and nights. But junior Hari Prabhakar spends much of his week coordinating care for sick people half a world away.

Prabhakar was just a high school kid in Dallas when he first learned about the tribals, a group in India dating back to 1600 B.C. Tribals rank low in India's caste system, and the health centers designed to serve them were understaffed and lacked medicine. "These magnificent people had been stigmatized by the population and were being left to die," says Prabhakar.

The summer before his freshman year at Hopkins, Prabhakar founded the Tribal India Health Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the development of health services for India's "most neglected citizens." He met with Hopkins public health and blood disease specialists, raised money for vaccines and medications, and started a center in Tamil Nadu that provides free screening for sickle cell disease, which is prevalent in the population, as well as treatment and health education.

Prabhakar spends about 15 hours a week running the foundation from Baltimore and another six researching sickle cell. He spends four months each year in Tamil Nadu. This spring, his hard work was recognized when USA Today named him to its All-USA College Academic First Team.

He has big hopes that his center, which is the first of its kind in Southern India, will serve as a regional model. "The tribals have made major contributions to culture in India," he says. "To neglect them is to lose a part of India."
— Maria Blackburn

Return to April 2006 Table of Contents

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