Jonathan Gillig

B.S. Biological Sciences and Theology '11
Medical Student

Around the Globe

Coming to Notre Dame was a dream of Jonathan Gillig’s, one that would take him around the globe.

During his junior year, Gillig studied abroad at Notre Dame’s London Centre in storied Trafalgar Square. While in London, one of his professors connected him with several contacts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, leading to an internship in an epidemiology lab at the school.

As part of the internship, he tested over 10,000 blood samples from patients in Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest country, which sparked his interest in malaria research. Upon his return to the states, he began to search for more hands-on malaria work – a search that led him all the way to Africa.

The summer of his senior year, Gillig travelled 9,100-plus miles by plane Kisumu, Kenya to work with a post-graduate research fellow through the Eck Institute for Global Health. He played a vital role in a field study that was conducted in Kenya’s Nyanza Province which sought to strengthen the Kenyan Ministry of Health’s effectiveness by monitoring the region’s malaria transmission. After training over 100 Kenyans as field workers, the teams began surveying an area of nearly 200 square miles.

The teams tested elementary school students from 45 pre-determined schools throughout the area for malaria as well as anemia. If a test came back positive, the children were sent home with the proper medication and dosing instructions. In addition, they tested residents within a 500-meter radius of the school for the same, providing with medication and dosing instructions.

Amidst the work, rose an ethical dilemma. The team could not test everyone for malaria, nor could they distribute medication to those infected who were not participants in the study.

“This was incredibly difficult for me to adhere to,” said Gillig. “I possessed the medication to alleviate the suffering of individuals, but I was unable to give it to them.”

The team began brainstorming to find an ethical solution that allowed them to stay within the budget and maintain the validity of the study. So, they decided that they would provide free transportation to the nearest medical clinic to ill patients outside of the study.

“Having a moral dilemma such as this, with no clear right or wrong answer, was incredibly enlightening to me,” said Gillig. “It showed me that often things are not black and white and that either choice can often be the right choice.”

Gillig and the team collected over 10,800 blood samples from students and others living in the area and he estimates that he helped over 70 Kenyans infected with malaria reach medical centers that could provide them treatment. In total, the team distributed well over 4,000 doses of anti-malarial medication and 2,000 doses of iron tablets to those in need.

Along with his trips to Africa and Europe, Gillig travelled to the Indian subcontinent through the Notre Dame Department of Theology to study the region’s diverse religious culture.

In all, his travels with the University took him to four continents: Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. By the time he graduated from Notre Dame, Gillig had travelled over 35,700 miles with the University. In other words, Gillig has travelled around the world nearly 1.5 times.

“The opportunities I had at Notre Dame to expand my horizons through international travel were immense,” said Gillig, reflecting on his international trips with the school.

“I was able to see first-hand, the dramatic effects that malaria has on communities and the disadvantage that it puts individuals in because it prevents them from getting an education, from being economically productive and achieving their fullest potential,” said Gillig. “However, I also saw the incredible happiness and zeal for life that the Kenyan people had, even amidst the struggles they face on a daily basis.”

Gillig will attend Emory University School of Medicine in the fall. After his residency, he plans to either pursue a surgical specialty or work towards improving global health through research opportunities.