Welcome New Faculty: Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, PhD, MPH

by Donald Clermont, MPH candidate ‘18

Tufts welcomes a new professor, Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, PhD, MPH, who recently joined the faculty of the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine after teaching for five years at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Dr. Amutah-Onukagha says she is excited about being in such a diverse and exciting city as Boston and that she is looking forward to eating a lot of lobster rolls in the summer.

Dr. Amutah-Onukagha’s background in public health goes back to her undergraduate studies at Rutgers University where she received a BS in Public Health alongside a BA in African Studies, for which she wrote her thesis on the role of African American women in the civil rights movement. Speaking on the uncommon combination of degrees, she says “It informed my health disparities work as a public health practitioner because I got to know the historical context of inequity, and the lines between that history and public health are not as disparate as they may seem.”

She then went on to receive her MPH from George Washington University and her PhD in Maternal and Child Health from the University of Maryland where her dissertation focused on the social determinants of health and racial and ethnic predictors of infant mortality in Washington D.C. After receiving her PhD, she received a prestigious Kellogg Post-doctoral Fellowship at Morgan State University where she focused on community-based participatory research and health disparities. When asked why she chose to apply for a faculty position at Tufts, Dr. Amutah-Onukagha says, “Tufts has a commitment to health equity and to improving and increasing their capacity to educate around the social determinants of health. Any school or department that recognizes that they need to grow and devotes systematic resources to make that happen, I am happy to be a part of that.”

At Montclair State University, Dr. Amutah-Onukagha served on the social justice conference planning committee which hosted their first ever social justice public health conference. “I think we could do more in the realm of social justice and there is a lot of opportunity for that at a place like Tufts,” she says, “if we are having a conversation in public health and we are not including social justice, we are not having the right conversation.” Dr. Amutah-Onukagha also recently served as the president of the Society for the Analysis of African American Public Health Issues (SAAPHI) for six years. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, SAAPHI was founded as an offshoot of the American Public Health Association to promote minority leadership within the association and more broadly in public health. During her term, Dr. Amutah-Onukagha focused on implementing more rigorous standards as well as increasing the role of students in the society.

Among other things, Dr. Amutah-Onukagha hopes to continue work on two programs she pioneered at Montclair State University called project THANKS (Turning HIV/AIDs into New Knowledge for Sisters) and project DASH (Divas Against the Spread of HIV/AIDS). Project THANKS is a seven-week intervention for HIV+ women with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or substance use disorder that aims to increase HIV medication adherence. She is currently working on a mobile app for the THANKS program and conducting focus groups to gain insights into how to further tailor THANKS for the target population. Project DASH is a pilot exploration through interviews of the relationship between African American HIV+ mothers and their HIV- adolescent daughters in the context of their HIV status. The study focuses on an exceptional potential opportunity to address HIV risk and prevention.

Dr. Amutah-Onukagha is meeting with leaders of community-based organizations in Boston with an eye to developing the relationships she needs to continue her work. She is also looking forward to teaching and advising students. “I am very interested in mentoring students. I love working with students and I love what I do.” With such a distinguished academic background and a keen dedication to health equity, there is no doubt that Dr. Amutah-Onukagha will help improve the conditions of those around her and maintain Tufts University’s status as a leader in public health.

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