Cornelia E. Davis MD (Connie) (Gonzaga ‘67’)
Connie Davis’s career in international public health began when she joined the World Health Organization (WHO) campaign to eradicate smallpox in India in 1975, just weeks after completing her residency in pediatrics at the USC---Los Angeles County Hospital. Her first challenge was navigating her role as the only solo female traveling physician in rural India. It turns out an important component of her work was breaking taboos – demanding that she, an African American woman, and her male driver and paramedic, both from different religions and castes, share meals together in the evenings. Given the cultural climate of India, this taboo took resilience to break.
Ms. Davis traveled with her eradication team by jeep to isolated villages. If a smallpox case was found, the team would start immediate containment efforts, vaccinating every single person within a one km radius and then searching for rash and fever cases in villages within 10 km.
Ms. Davis’s other projects and accomplishments in public health vary from working with UNICEF, helping to raise Senegal’s childhood immunization rate from 40 percent to 80 percent in two years, to presenting research to the Dalai Lama on injecting drug use causing HIV/AIDS in Tibetan youth and helping the Tibetan Ministry of Health to develop a prevention and control program for HIV/AIDS. Dr. Davis eventually went on to work with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta on dengue fever control along the US border with Mexico, working with Cambodian refugees in Thailand, and aiding Ethiopian refugees in Somalia.