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Walton '98 leads U.S. campaign against malaria

Dr. David Walton '98, who first saw disparities in health care during an Augustana study abroad trip, now will lead the U.S. fight against malaria around the world.

He has been appointed by President Joe Biden as the coordinator of the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI).

Dr. David Walton
Dr. David Walton

Dr. Walton said PMI has helped lead global efforts to collectively save more than 10.6 million lives and prevent more than 1.7 billion malaria infections since 2005. PMI works with 27 partner countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

"The work of the PMI over the last 18 years has been nothing short of extraordinary, and I'm incredibly proud be able to work alongside the exceptional PMI team," he said in announcing his appointment.

Dr. Walton has more than 20 years of experience working in global health, including working as a physician in Haiti to fight cholera and on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. 

He is the co-founder and previously served as the CEO of Build Health International, a non-profit dedicated to designing and building health infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries. Dr. Walton also was the senior director of Global Health at Butterfly Network, focused on reducing disparities of access to health care by making medical imaging accessible to everyone around the world.

A pre-med and Spanish major at Augustana, he was named an Academic All-American in 1998 in honor of his achievements in the classroom and as a sprinter on the track team.

He holds an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, a master of public health from the Harvard School of Public Health, and trained in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as the first Doris and Howard Hiatt Global Health Equity resident.

Seeing his path

The summer after his first year at Augustana, Dr. Walton studied abroad in Cuenca, Ecuador, where he was struck by the discrimination indigenous people suffered at the hands of the majority, particularly in regard to access to health care. 

Then in his senior year, he visited La Paz, Bolivia, on Augustana’s Latin American term. Again, he was moved by the lack of health care for the poor. He wrote his senior thesis about his experience in La Paz, which he calls an epiphany, as he began thinking about health care as a fundamental human right. 

“That was a pivotal experience that made me ask, ‘What can I do?’” he said. “It clearly relates to how I ended up where I am.”

As PMI coordinator, he joins the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator in its Bureau for Global Health. USAID is the federal agency responsible for foreign economic development and assistance.

Dr. Walton was the invited speaker at Augustana's 2010 commencement. He said, in part:

"All of you will move on to focus on your achievements, family and your own success. The pursuit of these goals is not mutually exclusive to our ability and responsibility of creating a more equitable world through the  free work of social justice. We owe it to ourselves to improve the world that our parents, grandparents and others created for us."

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