Doctor to be honored for aid abroad

Dr. Leon Kintaudi is helping to rebuild health system in Congo with help from local group


A Congolese physician working to restore health care in his central African country with the support of a Carroll County-based aid organization will be honored as a global health hero in New York this week.

Among the nine honorees at the Time Global Health Summit sponsored by Time magazine is Dr. Leon Kintaudi, who earned his medical degree in the United States and returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to reconstruct its health system. He oversees 56 health zones that care for millions, working in partnership with the local government and Interchurch Medical Assistance Inc., a coalition of a dozen faith-based relief and development organizations headquartered at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor.

"I'm so honored to be recognized this way, but the real heroes are the countless doctors and nurses and health educators and community volunteers and government health officials who have dedicated their lives to improving the health of the people of my country," Kintaudi wrote in an e-mail Friday.

"Most important, this honor gives me a unique opportunity to talk about the amazing successes and continuing challenges of the work I and my colleagues are doing in the DRCongo."

Kintaudi counts Paul Derstine, Interchurch Medical Assistance director, among those colleagues. Derstine, one of 350 conference invitees, considers the three-day event as an opportunity to get engaged in international health issues.

Among the workshop participants are Microsoft founder Bill Gates, media mogul Ted Turner, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Also attending are celebrities such as Bono and Glenn Close, whose father was, for many years, a missionary in Zaire, one of several names that once designated the nation that is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"The summit has pulled together international health experts, but it is recognizing people in the trenches," said Vickie Johnson, IMA spokeswoman.

Derstine hopes Kintaudi can tell his story at the summit.

"There is an unbelievable story to be told about Leon," Derstine said. "He has worked under unbelievable challenges in a country torn by civil war to re-establish rural health care. He has attracted teams of doctors to all parts of the country and is helping the organization grow and mature."

IMA received a $25 million federal grant five years ago to help re-establish the health care system in the Congo.

"U.S. AID made the first investment and has been a wonderful collaborator who saw the value of this project and recognized Congo as key to our national interests," Derstine said.

The summit will focus on controlling diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and malaria, eliminating civil discord and terrorism and coping with potential pandemics such as the avian flu. Coinciding with the summit, PBS television will air RX for Survival, a six-episode series dealing with global health challenges.

"We live in a global village where health issues know no borders and we need global awareness," Derstine said. "These issues are worth our time and investment or they could come back and haunt us."

Since its founding 45 years ago, IMA has grown into a force that readily responds to global crises. It channels the resources of the developed world to those who live in poverty worldwide, Derstine said.

"The invitation to the summit is an honor for us," Derstine said. "I am pleased to represent our organization and to say who we are."

IMA has shipped medical supplies this year to victims of the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and, most recently, the earthquake in Pakistan.

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