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December 10, 2008
CONTACT: Amy Lunday

Johns Hopkins Alum Rishi Mediratta Wins
Marshall Scholarship

[Note: High resolution photos of Mediratta are available upon request to acl@jhu.edu.]

Rishi Mediratta, a Johns Hopkins University alumnus from Portage, Mich., has been selected by the British government as a Marshall Scholar, one of 40 chosen nationwide.

Mediratta's selection to one of the most prestigious of academic scholarships for graduating seniors and recent graduates will allow him to spend two years in Great Britain, where he will study medical anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies and Public Health in Developing Countries at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He is interested in how families recognize and label childhood illnesses and how the public health community can mobilize families to seek health services.

Rishi Mediratta
Rishi Mediratta in Ethiopia, where he is working to improve the health care of children.
Photo courtesy Rishi Mediratta

"Studying medical anthropology and public health will be a critical step for me to address the root causes of social inequalities in health care," said Mediratta, 22, who received his bachelor's degree in public health studies and anthropology in May. "Understanding the socio-cultural dynamics in communities will equip me to champion more effective child health programs."

The scholarship will allow Mediratta to continue to pursue health programs for developing countries battling pediatric infectious disease. Since 2006, his focus has been on Ethiopia, where diarrheal diseases are a leading cause of death in children. He is the founder and president of the Ethiopian Orphan Health Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health of orphans in Gondar, Ethiopia, where he is currently working.

His work in Ethiopia began after a chance meeting with a Johns Hopkins alumnus in the Detroit airport. Spotting Mediratta's Johns Hopkins sweatshirt, Dr. Richard Hodes, who trained in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins, struck up a conversation with Mediratta, a freshman at the time. They exchanged e-mail addresses and began corresponding — Mediratta was drawn to Hodes's 20 years of work in Ethiopia, where he had been treating the poor and raising orphans.

Funding from the university's Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship, Provost's Undergraduate Research Award, and the Framework Program in Global Health allowed Mediratta to travel to Ethiopia to join Hodes at his clinic to conduct a diarrheal disease survey. His first visit was in January 2006, and he returned again in the summers of 2006 and 2007, living with the Hodes family, immersing himself in a new culture.

"Rishi is really interested in learning," Hodes wrote in his letter recommending Mediratta for the Marshall. "While Rishi was in Addis Ababa, he spent every Saturday with me [working in Mother Theresa's Mission], learning how I practice medicine. Often he and I would take patients for x-rays ourselves and discuss Ethiopian medicine for hours at a time."

In Ethiopia, he studied how widespread misconceptions in childcare were causing mothers there to unwittingly harm their children suffering from diarrhea. He interviewed 440 mothers about the risk factors and management of diarrheal disease and discovered that the majority of mothers gave their children less food and fluids when they were ill — the opposite of the standard treatment for diarrhea. He then devised a pictograph and coached a youth drama group designed to reframe mothers' cultural beliefs about how to treat the disease. It's an experience he hopes to bring to other impoverished regions as a physician and public health practitioner.

"I see myself working with local communities to design, implement, manage and evaluate child health programs in underprivileged areas in the United States and in developing countries," Mediratta wrote. "Throughout my career, I will expand my work in Ethiopia and use it as a model to champion culturally appropriate strategies that mobilize families to seek quality medical care for their children."

In addition to his public health initiatives, Mediratta co-founded the Orphanage Soccer League, organizing weekly games between five orphanages in Addis Ababa.

Mediratta is the son of Dr. Ravinder Mediratta and Sangita Mediratta of Portage, Mich., and he graduated from Portage Central High School and Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center in 2004. Mediratta is one of two Marshall Scholarship winners from Johns Hopkins this year. The other is Kurt Herzer, 21, a senior from Melville, N.Y., who is on track to receive his bachelor's degree in public health studies in May 2009.

Marshall Scholarships are funded by the British government to commemorate the Marshall Plan, the U.S. government program that assisted in the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. Marshall Scholarships give up to 40 winners each year the opportunity to study at any British university. The scholarship pays university fees and living expenses, as well as travel fare to and from the United States. It is typically a two-year grant, with the possibility of extending the scholarship for a third year. Recipients must be U.S. citizens no older than 25 with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.70 after freshman year.

Besides a letter of endorsement from their university and four other letters of recommendation, applicants must submit by early October an outline of their proposed studies in Great Britain along with a personal essay. After a regional selection committee reviews the applications, candidates are chosen and interviewed by the committee in mid-November.

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