On Thursday afternoon, the country learned the names of the 25 winners of the 2018 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship awards.
But public health professor Gregg Gonsalves ’11 SPH ’17 found out a month ago that he was a recipient of the $650,000 grant, given over a period of five years.
“When they told me the day after Labor Day that I could only tell one other person, it was either my partner or my mom,” Gonsalves said. “So I told my partner. I kept it a secret for a whole month.”
As an assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health and an associate professor at Yale Law School, Gonsalves has dedicated his career to epidemic prevention. His research has not only implemented mathematical models that predict infectious disease spread but has also advised policymakers about how to improve health care.
In addition, Gonsalves has dedicated much of his academic career to health advocacy. He co-founded the Global Health Justice Partnership, a joint program between the Law School and School of Public Health that, according to its website, “tackles contemporary problems at the interface of global health, human rights and social justice.”
The partnership’s projects have advocated for improvements in tuberculosis treatment for miners in South Africa, Zika prevention for women in Brazil, increased Hepatitis C medication access for individuals of low socioeconomic status in the United States and other global health solutions.
“He’s not just a researcher,” said Alice Miller, another co-founder of the global health partnership and a Law School and School of Public health professor. “He’s a researcher who moves his work into advocacy and changes the power structures that make it more likely that people will become ill or sick.”
Gonsalves’ unconditional background has profoundly shaped his career. After dropping out of Tufts University in the middle of the HIV epidemic in the late ’80s, he became an AIDS activist. He went on to co-found the Treatment Action Group, a research and policy think tank that advocates for disease prevention.
In 1996, Gonsalves learned he was positive for the virus, which reaffirmed his commitment to its prevention. He proceeded to move to South Africa to work with the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa.
In the mid-2000s, Gonsalves decided to go back to college and enrolled in Yale’s Eli Whitney Students Program. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he earned a doctorate at the School of Public Health in 2017 and joined the Yale faculty a month later.
“He came back to school to get the skills of epidemiology and mathematical modeling in order to serve global health activism,” Miller said.
Despite an impressive resume, Gonsalves had no idea that he would receive the prestigious fellowship. But his colleagues were not surprised. According to Miller, Gonsalves is deeply committed to figuring out how to best utilize his skills to help other activists around the world.
“The MacArthur award is kind of like a Nobel for creativity in making a true impact in one’s discipline,” Sten Vermund, dean of the School of Public Health, told the News. “Dr. Gonsalves and his activist and academic colleagues have literally changed policies around the world, accelerating drug development and access to care for persons living with HIV/AIDS. We are immensely proud to have his leadership in the Yale School of Public Health and our Global Health Justice Initiative with the Yale School of Law.”
Gonsalves said he has not yet considered how he will use the money. However, Miller predicts that Gonsalves will use this grant to further the advocacy work he does.
“Knowing Gregg, he will use the grant to generate more credibility for the work and to spread the ways of doing this work into marginalized and affected communities that might not otherwise be able to do it,” Miller said.
Four other Yale alumni — Vijay Gupta MUS ’07, Titus Kaphar DRA ’06, Becca Heller LAW ’10 and Okwui Okpokwasili ’96 — were also chosen as 2018 MacArthur Fellows.
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