As he has each year for more than a decade, Elias S. Siraj, MD, recently returned from his native Ethiopia where he has worked to support medical education, research and improve healthcare.

This year, Dr. Siraj, brought back official recognition of his contributions to the African country. Dr. Siraj is the David L. Bernd Distinguished Chair for EVMS-Sentara Cardiovascular Diabetes Program, Chief of Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders and Director of the EVMS Strelitz Diabetes Center.

Dr. Siraj was one of four U.S.-based physicians honored by Addis Ababa University Faculty of Medicine for sustained, loyal support of the country for many years. Michael Raynor, U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, was guest of honor at the CME event where the surprise recognition was announced, and he presented Dr. Siraj with a certificate signifying his award.

Just a few days later, Dr. Siraj received more praise for his efforts. He was named an Associate Fellow in the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences. The praise — the academy’s highest recognition for foreign physicians — was, in part, acknowledgment of Dr. Siraj’s efforts in diabetes research in Ethiopia and his contribution in establishing the country’s first endocrine fellowship training program.

Before Dr. Siraj launched the endocrine training program, the country of 100 million inhabitants had just three western-trained specialists in diabetes and endocrinology. Today, that number is growing annually thanks to the training program that he helped establish.

During his latest visit, Dr. Siraj was a visiting professor at the university, giving lectures, taking part in hospital rounds with the trainees and seeing individuals with diabetes at an outpatient clinic. He also had plenty of other duties to keep him busy during his trip. He presented at the CME conference sponsored by Ethio-American Doctors Group (EADG) and at another conference sponsored by Mekelle University College of Medicine in Mekelle, Ethiopia.  He also was invited to speak on diabetes after kidney transplantation at St. Paul's Hospital Millennium Medical College in Addis Ababa, where the first kidney transplant center in the country was established few years ago. During his stay, he also visited with the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI), where he discussed plans for a collaborative research effort in diabetes with EVMS.

Dr. Siraj is one of hundreds of Ethiopian-born physicians now practicing in the U.S. who return regularly to lend a hand.

“As a developing country, it has its fair share of problems,” Dr. Siraj said of Ethiopia. “When it comes to diabetes, they are in need of help in education, in research and also in terms of improving their patient care. Years ago, I decided I had to get involved. The occurrence of diabetes in the country has dramatically increased over the last decade. With increasing urbanization and improved economic status,  people are living a sedentary lifestyle and their diet is becoming more unhealthy, leading to increased occurrence of overweight, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

“There are a lot of challenges in managing diabetes there – the availability of affordable healthcare, insulin, other diabetes medicines and laboratory tests, particularly for poor people,” he said.

Dr. Siraj plans to continue his work to support patient care and education there, seek out joint research opportunities and, ideally, develop a formal partnership between EVMS and Addis Ababa University Faculty of Medicine.

See more photos of Dr. Siraj's trip.