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Monday, June 18, 2018

University of Iowa student Ishaya David has big plans for the future, plans that include assuming leadership of a small nonprofit organization started by his beloved brother and traveling the rural roads of his native Nigeria to educate youth about the dangers of unprotected sex and HIV/AIDS, and the health hazards associated with substance abuse.

David sees his education and the network he is building with fellow pharmacy and public health students and professors at Iowa as an important stepping stone in realizing those plans. After his first year in the UI’s dual Doctor of Pharmacy/Master of Public Health program, David is enthusiastic about what he’s learning, especially about public health issues that will serve him well in Africa.

“My education at the University of Iowa is laying the groundwork for my future work in Nigeria,” says David, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. “If I want to run my own nonprofit, I need to be an expert in infectious diseases; I need to know what I am doing so people will trust me with their health and with the funding they give my organization.”

David is returning to Nigeria for several weeks this summer to drive to some of the more remote areas of his homeland. He wants to visit with teenagers and young people who live in religiously conservative parts of the country because he says they are most at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS through unprotected sex as well as drug abuse, including the use of opioids, which are sold on the street.

“In rural areas, sex education is not taught in schools and so it is left up to parents to teach their children,” David says. “However, many parents refuse to discuss the subject with their children and use scare tactics to get them to obey when it comes to sexual activity and drug use. I don’t want to reinforce these fears; I want to dismiss them.”

David is following in the footsteps of his older brother, Nuhu, who died of sickle cell anemia when he was in his 20s. Nuhu David created Dreams Alive, a nonprofit, in hopes of curbing new HIV infection in Nigeria, which has the second highest HIV epidemic in the world and one of the highest rates of new infection in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Avert, a UK-based organization that raises awareness about HIV.

Since taking over Dreams Alive several years ago, Ishaya David has visited several dozen schools in Nigeria, each time meeting with teachers and students to share ways to prevent HIV infection, as well as information about drug use and addiction. On one of his visits, he says he learned that young women in some rural areas stay home from school during their menstrual cycle because they don’t have access to feminine hygiene products. As a result, David now takes such products with him on his visits. He also takes condoms and donated textbooks.

“This work is the sort of work that I want to do for the rest of my life,” says David. “It’s work that I know would help Nigerians live better lives.”

Helping him succeed are UI College of Pharmacy professors Jeffrey Reist and Jeanine Abrons, both of whom serve as mentors to the young nonprofit leader. Abrons has helped David investigate the steps he needs to take to make Dreams Alive eligible for funding through the U.S. State Department and to register his nonprofit with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. She says she’s impressed with David’s work ethic.

“I admire how much he has accomplished already at such a young age,” says Abrons. “He has the spirit of an advocate, and I see the rewards and benefits that it brings and how it enriches his life. His passion is evident and his story is only just beginning.”

Reist, who teaches the college’s Foundations of Pharmacy Practice course, says that from day one, David stood out as a student who was extra engaged and extra motivated.

“I typically get to know students very well in that course, and one day Ishaya and I had the chance to talk more in depth about his background,” Reist says. “When he told me about his brother who died and his desire to carry on with the nonprofit, I was just blown away. It was such an impressive story, and it’s clear that he is very dedicated to this idea of continuing and growing the nonprofit that his brother started.”

As the fall 2017 semester continued, the friendship between the professor and his student strengthened, and at one point David asked Reist to write a letter of recommendation as part of his application to enter the UI’s dual Doctor of Pharmacy/Master of Public Health program.

“I have written a lot of letters of recommendation over the years, and Ishaya’s letter was one of the easiest I have written,” says Reist. “Ishaya is the kind of person who is going into the public health curriculum with a goal already in mind and will take the training and do amazing good with it. I know he’s going to do great things, and I am going to feel incredibly proud to have been part of his early pharmacy experience.”

As part of the four-year pharmacy/public health graduate degree, David will learn about medications and diseases, as well as preventative and treatment strategies, including some for the conditions he is trying to prevent in Nigeria. He also will learn about administering vaccinations and immunizations, and conducting health and disease screenings. David also will complete several medical and pharmaceutical rotations, which will allow him to start building professional confidence and subject expertise.

“I’ve talked a lot with Ishaya about the practice of creating sustainable health partnerships and networks to address global health issues,” says Abrons, who represents the College of Pharmacy on the UI’s Global Health Steering Committee. “Ishaya’s personal experiences and connections led him to pursue this idea, and he’s already working on making it happen. My role is to help him be strategic about where he goes with it in the future.”

David hopes that the summer trip to Nigeria will help him shape his remaining three years on the UI campus. For the first time, he will partner with a group of nurses to provide HIV testing, a step he hopes will persuade more schools to participate and also build a reputation for Dreams Alive.

Already he has plans to volunteer next year with the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition, a nonprofit started by a student at the UI’s Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine that distributes safer injection kits, condoms, and reproductive health supplies to reduce the risk of HIV and hepatitis C in Eastern Iowa. He also will apply for grant funding to conduct research on HIV/AIDS and drug education in Nigeria.

“I’m just at the beginning of this adventure,” says David. “But already, I am getting so much help from everyone at the University of Iowa.”