Kwan Kew Lai ’74
Infectious Disease Physician, Disaster Relief Volunteer
Kwan Kew Lai, M.D., D.M.D., is an infectious disease specialist who has volunteered her medical services all over the world. In 2004, after the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, she spent three weeks in India, caring for survivors. She soon left her position as a full-time Professor of Medicine in Infectious Diseases and Internal Medicine at UMass Memorial Medical Center and created a half-time position as a clinician, dedicating the other half of her time to humanitarian work.
Since 2005, Lai has volunteered as a mentor to health workers addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Vietnam, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, and Malawi, and has provided earthquake relief in Haiti and Nepal, hurricane relief in the Philippines, and drought and famine relief in Kenya and the Somalia border. She has also worked with refugees of the Democratic Republic of Congo, internally displaced people in Libya during the Arab Spring and South Sudan after the civil war, and treated Ebola patients in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Most recently, she served as a medical volunteer in Haiti and in the Syrian refugee camps in Greece. Lai has blogged extensively about her experiences.
Originally from Penang, Malaysia, Lai came to the United States after receiving a scholarship to attend Wellesley, where she studied molecular biology. “Without that open door I would not have gone on to become a doctor,” Lai wrote in her Doctors Without Borders bio.
Lai has received numerous awards for her work, which include being a three-time recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award. In addition, Lai is the lead author of many publications and presentations. Her research has included HIV studies, infection control, hospital epidemiology, and antibiotic trials. She has served on many committees, task forces, and boards, including the Governor’s Advisory Board for the Elimination of Tuberculosis in Massachusetts. She recently signed a contract with Start Publishing for her book “Lest We Forget”: A Doctor’s Experience with Life and Death during the Ebola Outbreak. She is also an avid marathon runner and paints when she is inspired.