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  • Writer's pictureEmily Vaughn

Dr. Miguel Bonilla's Journey to Jimma

When any member of the Aslan Project team or visiting faculty mentions our Clinical Director, Dr. Miguel Bonilla, words like “extraordinary,” “inspiring,” and “optimistic” invariably begin the conversation. During the eight months of Dr. Bonilla’s tenure as full-time director of our pediatric cancer program at Jimma University Medical Center (JUMC) in southwestern Ethiopia, he not only has introduced superb clinical and academic skills to the hospital and our fellowship training program in pediatric hematology/oncology – each and every day, he offers a warm friendship to our partners in Jimma and brings hope to the families and children with cancer in treatment at JUMC.

Dr. Bonilla’s journey to Jimma began over two decades ago in El Salvador, where he earned his medical degree from the Universidad de El Salvador, San Salvador, El Salvador before completing his fellowship in pediatric oncology at the Instituto Nacional de Pediatría in Mexico City. “I began my pediatric oncology career in 1994, when St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital founded the first international outreach partnership in El Salvador,” said Bonilla, “During my time as director of the partner site at Hospital Benjamin Bloom in San Salvador, I first comprehended that it was possible to translate the current knowledge of pediatric cancer care to a third-world setting.”

In the years that followed, Dr. Bonilla dedicated himself to this mission, coordinating the pediatric oncology partner sites of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s International Outreach Program in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic; Guadalajara, Culiacan, and Chiapas, Mexico; Quito, Ecuador; and El Salvador and Honduras. In these roles, Dr. Bonilla oversaw the development of both comprehensive programs and the training of new generations of pediatric hematologists/oncologists, in addition to creating data-based tools to evaluate medical care that enabled the local teams to implement modifications to treatment regimens that matched and best utilized resources and capabilities.

“I am eager to use the experience I have acquired by developing pediatric cancer care strategies in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to help build Aslan’s project in Jimma,” explained Dr. Bonilla. And his impact at JUMC is already remarkable – under his direction, the children in treatment at our JUMC unit have experienced unprecedented early outcomes for an LMIC over the first four months of the unit’s operation.

“Moving to Africa and separating from my family, who live in the U.S., was not an easy

choice, but the support of and encouragement from my family have given me the courage to face this challenge. I feel privileged to be part of Aslan’s team of professionals and institutions who share my belief that children everywhere in the world deserve the best care possible despite the scarcity of resources. We are going to do good things for all the children in Ethiopia!”

Armed with basic cooking utensils, and his secret stash of spices and tortillas (happily supplied by our visiting medical faculty), as well as his ever-present perseverance, compassion, and joyful optimism, Dr. Bonilla will no doubt make this dream a reality in Jimma. We are honored and deeply grateful to have you spearhead our team, Miguel!



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