Living his dream

Living his dream

PHHP student focused on goal of studying and stopping cholera

By Erica A. Hernandez
Moise Ngwa

Moise Ngwa

At age 6, Moise Ngwa was diagnosed with cholera in the sub-Saharan country of Cameroon.

“I remember my mom carrying me to the nearest clinic for medication,” said Ngwa, a doctoral student in the College of Public Health and Health Professions. “What birthed my passion for public health was seeing the doctors and nurses in the public health campaign against cholera. That motivated me to become like them.”

Since then, Ngwa has been working toward his childhood goal: to develop a policy and intervention mechanisms that can actually rid the world of cholera.

“It’s a dream that I had and one that I am carrying here today, and it’s a dream that I will carry into my future,” he said.

Since winning a National Institutes of Health grant to study cholera in Haiti and Cameroon, his goal is finally within reach.

Ngwa started on this path by working in stone quarries and sand pits in his village to earn money for his elementary school books. Even at a young age, he knew the value of an education.

He later went on to earn a bachelor’s of science in entomology and nematology and a master’s degree in public health from UF. Ngwa also holds a master’s of science in industrial engineering and management from Technical University of Berlin.

While Ngwa was working toward his master’s degree at UF he met Glenn Morris, M.D., director of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute and a professor of infectious diseases within the College of Medicine.

As part of his internship with the EPI, Ngwa worked with the institute’s research team that was involved in studies of cholera and modeling of cholera transmission in Haiti.

Even just as an intern, Ngwa knew he wanted to continue studying cholera at the institute. The only issue was funding.

At the time the institute did not have the funds to hire another graduate assistant, which would be required for Ngwa if he decided to pursue a doctoral degree, and Ngwa did not have the funds to pay his way through the program.

That was when Morris suggested that Ngwa apply for a NIH grant to fund his proposed dissertation.

With Morris’ help, Ngwa submitted his grant application after three months of writing, editing and rewriting.

Months went by and still no answer.

NIH’s set call-back day in early 2012 passed without an answer. As hope dwindled and his doctoral tuition bills neared due, Ngwa was feeling the pressure.

“In many ways he took a chance,” Morris said.

By the very end of the summer semester, the NIH sent a letter to Ngwa telling him his grant had been funded.

Ngwa described the feeling after he opened that letter as “jubilation.”

This fall, Ngwa started working toward his doctoral degree in the department of environmental and global health at UF. His grant covers his dissertation travel, supplies and fees as well as his tuition until he graduates in 2015.

Ngwa hopes to receive his passport in the mail by March, so he can book his first of many trips to Haiti and Cameroon.

Ngwa, who speaks English, German, French, and pidgin English, has a new goal, too. “My ultimate umbrella goal is to be a public health research representative for sub-Saharan Africa. Maybe ten years or so down the line,” he said.