Anita Datar, who worked to bring the world together in health, lost to attack in Mali

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“Without a strategic plan or a road map, many countries suffered from multiple, fragmented systems that could not share information.”


Some people look at a map and see divisions. Anita Datar looked at maps and saw ways to pull the world together. The horrific tragedy of the great difference between those two perspectives came into stark relief Friday, when Ms. Datar, a global public health worker and equity enthusiast, and the mother of a young son, was one of 21 people killed by armed attackers in Mali, where she had travelled for work.

She was the one American known to have been killed in the attack. Her family has been quoted in reports saying that of her accomplishments, raising her son was the one she valued above all. Her efforts to ensure others the opportunities important to her, to raise children, enjoy life, and contribute to a common cause, regardless of geography, was the focus of work she wrote about that was posted here. Over the last year and a half Ms. Datar contributed three posts for Science Speaks on the practicalities of equitable health access that made the complexities, and the benefits of modern mapping technologies to global health clear. Links to those, are below, and followed by memories and thoughts from her colleagues at Palladium, with whom she worked on the Health Policy Project, from USAID, and from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

AIDS 2014: When HIV Research and Data Collection Is at Odds with “Do No Harm” –

AIDS 2014: When HIV Research and Data Collection Is at Odds with “Do No Harm” – In this first post to Science Speaks from AIDS 2014 in Melbourne, Australia, Datar explained how “Using maps to understand spatial patterns in disease epidemics is nothing new,” but how, “In advancing this basic approach to public health—the need to tackle the HIV epidemic by identifying and reaching people who are most at risk for HIV—international public health professionals find themselves facing a double-edged sword. On the one hand, matching the geography of key populations to programs and life-saving services is a powerful weapon in the fight against HIV. On the other, this very data risks putting sensitive data about individuals and services in the hands of those who might inflict harm.”

Why maps matter: Delivering the right HIV services in the right place at the right time

Why maps matter: Delivering the right HIV services in the right place at the right time – This post explained how for accelerated HIV responses to be sustainable countries would need to be equipped with training and resources to use basic mapping technology, which could help countries deliver HIV services where they are needed most.

Mapping health facilities supports accountability, saves lives

Mapping health facilities supports accountability, saves lives – “At first blush, establishing a Master Health Facility List sounds like something only data nerds should care about,” Datar wrote in this March 2015 post, and explained how delineating the resources in remote locations is critical to getting help where it is needed, including in emergency situations.

In tribute . . .

“Anita’s work on the geospatial mapping of HIV hotspots was essential to focusing the PEPFAR program for maximum impact. Whether Anita was training PEPFAR staff on gender and sexual diversity or helping country governments responsibly transition their HIV programs, we admired Anita’s compassion and sensitivity and true commitment to the cause.” Ambassador Deborah Birx, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator & U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy

“Anita Datar had an acute sense of social justice that pervaded her professional and social lives. She believed that all lives have equal worth and embodied it though international development. This was much more than a job for her and she saw it as her long term mission.  She was passionate about improving access to quality health care, modern family planning and contraceptive choices for women and families everywhere.  She started her career in West Africa and that is also where it tragically ended.  Her heroism was in trying to do the right thing every day.”  Farley R. Cleghorn MD, MPH, Global Health Practice Leader, Palladium

“Anita truly believed in the importance of the work we do on health policy and the transformative effect that high-quality information can have on improving the lives of the most vulnerable. . . I was amazed and inspired by the energy she put into creating networks, solving problems, and mentoring professionals at all levels. On multiple occasions, I was able to believe in myself because she believed in me.” – Nicole R. Judice, Senior Technical Advisor, Health at Palladium

“Anita was driven by intellectual curiosity and a commitment to ensuring equitable health access in developing countries. She was energized by opportunities to improve vulnerable populations’ access to health services and sought as many experiences as possible. While her work covered a wide range of areas, she made a lasting contribution to the field of HIV. Her passion for justice and human rights was reflected in efforts to promote key populations’ access to HIV services – she sought to engage civil society organizations in national HIV responses and ensure their sustainability. Anita had an incredible sense of empathy and as she connected with people throughout the world, she undertook her work with a relentless drive to improve their lives.” – Britt Herstad, HIV Regional Advisor, Office of HIV/AIDS, USAID

” . . . in all her work in public health, she was more concerned about the result than the credit; more concerned about improving people’s health  . . .”  Steven Forsythe, MBA, PhD, Deputy Director, Economics and Costing, Avenir Health

“Anita had a passion for mapping those most in need of services for HIV. With this information, resources could go where they were most needed.  . .” Jill Gay, Chief Technical Officer, What Works Association

“Anita and I traveled to Guyana together in 2013 to interview members of civil society organizations about how they could continue their HIV work while donor funding was decreasing.  I was so impressed with her sensitivity to the different perspectives in these conversations and her ability to connect with everyone- from a leader of an urban business network to a small rural organization’s HIV client. After one day of these interviews, we spent a bumpy boat and car ride back to the capital talking about why it was so important to ensure that there are HIV services left for those who need them.  It was fun to talk with Anita since she was so smart, passionate, and articulate about her viewpoint. But the best part of talking with her was she had this rare ability to listen and make you feel really listened to.  That is probably why she excelled in her work. She cared about what others thought and brought those perspectives alive in a sincere way. At the end of these interviews in Guyana, Anita had this “blue sky” question- what was the ask or dream of these organizations if the sky was the limit? She pushed people to get out of their shells and think beyond the normal response; it helped us ultimately find solutions that were unexpected. I wish we could ask her the “blue sky” question now. I can imagine her smile.”  Deborah Kaliel, Senior Sustainability and Capacity Building Advisor, Office of HIV and AIDS, USAID

One thought on “Anita Datar, who worked to bring the world together in health, lost to attack in Mali

  1. Pingback: The Power of One: Anita Datar’s Contributions to the Global AIDS Response | Science Speaks: HIV & TB News

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