Congratulations to Gelila Goba, MD, MPH, the first recipient of the Martin-Peterson Global Health Scholar Award!

Dr. Goba has spent more than 20 years dedicated to improving women’s healthcare in Ethiopia and the United States. Her commitment to women’s health was shaped by growing up in Ethiopia in the 1970s/80s, when women had low socioeconomic status and the maternal mortality rate was among the highest in the world.

While in medical school in Jimma, Ethiopia, Dr. Goba took care of young women and being confronted by the harsh realities of women’s healthcare. She saw women – girls – younger than herself, dying of septic abortion.

After graduating from medical school, Dr. Goba served as Head of the Addis Ababa Health Bureau’s Department of Maternal and Child Health under the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH). She found that public health was at times challenging and frustrating, but the memory of those young women whose lives ended early due to lack of care helped her stay focused. These experiences have stayed with Dr. Goba and continue to inform her work.

The Martin-Peterson Global Health Scholar Award was created in late 2016 as a gift from ACOG Past President James N. Martin, Jr., MD. The Award honors Dr. Herbert B. Peterson’s lifelong dedication to improving the healthcare of all women globally; his leadership in the initiation of the ACOG Global Operations Advisory Group in 2011; the respect and admiration that the world ob-gyn community holds for him as an advocate for women’s health worldwide; and the need to support activities to enhance the role and recognition of ACOG as the foremost advocate for women’s health in this country and abroad.

The Martin-Peterson Global Health Scholar Award recognizes an obstetrician-gynecologist from a low- or middle-income country with outstanding ability and who is currently in the United States under the auspices of a formal hospital or university program. The purpose of the award is to expose recipients to ACOG and all its resources.

Dr. Goba has made contributions and commitments to women’s health, both in Chicago and globally. She is the Director of the Global Women’s Health Fellowship Program at the University of Illinois Chicago and a tenure-track Assistant Professor at UIC’s Global Medicine Program.

Dr. Goba completed the Gates-Packard funded Population Leadership Program (PLP) Fellowship at the University of Washington, after which she returned to Ethiopia. While in Ethiopia she served as the Country Director for EngenderHealth, a global nonprofit whose mission is to improve the health of mothers and children. Her work focused on access to Long Acting and Reversible Contraceptive methods, and she secured $50 million in private and USAID funding to support women’s health and HIV prevention.

In 2011, Dr. Goba joined the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Northwestern University in Illinois. In 2012, during her second year of residency and at the request of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) of Ethiopia, Dr. Goba established the Mela Project, a collaboration with Mekelle University that established a four-year Ob/Gyn residency. The Mela Project has been supported by the IDP Foundation, a global philanthropic organization dedicated to advancing innovative development initiatives. The project provides resident education, mentored research and Ob/Gyn faculty development in Mekelle.

The primary goal of the Mela Project is to make Mekelle University an “Ob/Gyn center of excellence.”

“The Mela Project has grown to become a strong peering partner of Mekelle University’s four-year ob-gyn residency program,” said Dr. Goba. “The project has entailed over 40 bi-directional visits as well as substantial collaborative research activities since 2012.”

In January 2017, Mekelle University’s Ob/Gyn program graduated its first cohort of Ob/Gyns, all of whom elected to stay on as faculty at Mekelle University. This, says Dr. Goba, is “a remarkable accomplishment given the financial incentives to pursue private sector work in Ethiopia.”

The Mela Project is housed at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where Goba is a tenure-track Assistant Professor and Director of the Global Women’s Health Fellowship Program. She is also an adjunct faculty at Mekelle University and actively engaged in teaching, clinical and research mentorship in Ethiopia.

Under Goba’s leadership, the Mela Project is expanding to South Sudan, Uganda and Somaliland. At Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, the partnership entails matching the community-based strengths of Mekelle University with the biomedical research experience of Makerere University through experience sharing and access to biomedical resources.

“My project and research interests are coalescing around maternal and perinatal outcomes, social and policy determinants of maternal health care, and cervical cancer prevention and screening research. I expect this to be a continued focus over the coming years,” says Dr. Goba.

In addition to strengthening Mekelle University’s Ob/Gyn program, The Mela Project provides unique opportunities for supervised clinical and research experience for US residents and fellows.