Alumni Profile: Josh Kahane
Source: Colby Echo, 4/15/09
As a co-captain of the College's Varsity soccer team and an economics
major, Josh Kahane '07 thought he had a plan. Upon graduating, the
Newton, Mass. native headed to Boston to begin a position working for a
market research and strategy-consulting firm. But something was
missing. "As time passed during my first (and only) year of work, I
realized I wanted and needed something different," Kahane said-a
realization that led him to his current position as a Project
Coordinator for a pilot program for HIV/AIDS treatment in Uganda.
time abroad was not an idea that came suddenly to Kahane. In fact, he
had been inspired to live and work in a foreign country since a close
friend from high school enrolled in the Peace Corps the same spring
that he left the Hill. He also studied abroad in New Zealand during his
junior year, an experience that "gave me the confidence and comfort to
leave home and live in a foreign country for an extended period of
time," he said.
While his friend was thoroughly enjoying his
work in Costa Rica, Kahane and his "other friends working for
investment banks or research firms were unhappy." So he started
casually searching online for volunteer opportunities abroad, as well
as speaking with his cousin about her experiences volunteering in
At the same time that he decided to look at
opportunities abroad, Kahane decided he wanted to go to medical school,
since he had completed all of the Pre-Med requirements on top of his
economics major. "I began having discussions with some family friends
who were doctors in the Boston area," he said. "I reached out to them
and told them I just wanted to learn more about their career path and
decisions that led them there." In speaking with the doctors, he also
mentioned that he wanted to spend time working in another country. One
of the doctors he met redirected him to a colleague who was doing
HIV/AIDS research in Africa with the Ragon Institute, part of
Massachusetts General Hospital. He spent two months volunteering in
Uganda, after which he was welcomed back full-time to help implement a
pilot program that the doctor was interested in conducting.
primary responsibility is to implement a pilot study entitled
'Real-Time Adherence Monitoring in Rural Uganda,'" Kahane said. The
pilot study is part of the doctor's on-going work with HIV-positive
participants' adherence to medication. The treatment is called
Anti-Retroviral Therapy, and it suppresses the HIV virus resulting in a
drastic increase in the individual's life expectancy. The treatment is
available to the majority of the population. The doctors currently
monitor adherence by using a bottle cap that fits on the participant's
pill bottle and records and stores every opening of the pill cap. The
adherence percentage is then compared with the manually-conducted count
of the participants' pills at the end of the month. "This doesn't
guarantee that the participant has actually taken their medication,"
Kahane said. But he added that "while this is an imperfect measurement,
there have been many studies supporting its effectiveness. The success
has been impressive and it is much more cost effective than conducting
expensive blood tests, which is what they do in the U.S."
With the information they collect from the prescription bottles, Kahane
and the team for which he works hope to "intervene and identify the
main causes of treatment interruptions." Due to the wireless modem
installed in the pill bottles, the researchers receive data within a
few minutes of the pill container being opened, marking a huge gain in
efficiency from the once-a-month data collection afforded by the old
home visits. They are now able to track the information online and are
working on setting up alerts to inform them when participants have not
taken their medication for more than 48 hours. "Treatment
interruptions, if allowed to last, can lead to viral rebound and drug
resistance," Kahane said of the importance of his research. These
interruptions lead to an increase in the likelihood of death, as well
as an increase in the costs associated with drug therapy.
In addition to his work for the Ragon Institute, Kahane and a few of his friends volunteer in the local Ugandan school system.
teach a Health and Lifestyle class with the hope to reinforce the
importance of healthy habits, both physical and mental. "The class is
much more interactive than the student's typical class setting and
takes a different approach to ingraining these principles in the
students' minds. We have received a lot of positive feedback and
support so far," said Kahane. He also helps out with coaching a local
girls' soccer team.
While his newfound environment is
certainly different from his days of iPlay sports and the
Entrepreneur's Club on Mayflower Hill, Kahane regularly draws upon the
skills he acquired at the College. "While a college degree in the U.S.
is pretty common, that degree goes a long way in developing countries,"
he said. "The work ethic and problem solving skills I developed at [the
College] have definitely provided me with a leg up in many situations
and have made me much more comfortable doing the work I am doing," he
Kahane cites the language barrier (English is the
national language of Uganda, but the country is also comprised of over
thirty regional dialects) and the fact that everything runs on "Africa
time," or fifteen minutes to two hours late, as the most frustrating
parts of his job. He has also had to tactfully manage several marriage
proposals from African women, who see him as a "ticket out" to what
they perceive as a better life in the U.S.
However, he said that the "people are incredibly friendly and
welcoming," inviting him to join in on family meals, weddings and other
celebrations. "I am working with very talented and dedicated Ugandans
and I enjoy what I am doing. I am able to understand and see the impact
of the work I am doing, and that is extremely rewarding," he said.
who might have even a slight inclination to work abroad should. I have
never had a more rewarding and enjoyable experience," Kahane said. He
encouraged students searching for opportunities abroad to remain
open-minded and unhindered by obstacles like language or cultural
barriers. In addition, he suggested that students make the most of any
connections they might have, whether they be in the form of advice from
professors and other students or in the form of grants and
scholarships, which are increasingly becoming available to recent
graduates who want to spend time abroad.
"There are very few times
in life that you have the flexibility to live in an unfamiliar area and
culture and I truly feel it is worth it. You will provide a significant
contribution to the community and also find that you are happy with
yourself and what you are doing," Kahane said.
where his work with the Ragon Institute stands, Kahane plans to return
to the U.S. in June. He hopes that by that time, the local Ugandans
that he has worked to train will be able to continue the study on their
own. Once back in the U.S., he plans to apply to medical school and
study for the GMATs with the eventual goal of obtaining a MD/MBA joint