RIT Rallies: Biotechnology alumnus helping Bolivia respond to COVID-19 pandemic
Mohammed Mostajo-Radji ’11 is Bolivia’s first ambassador for science, technology and innovation
Bolivian Ministry of Communication
An RIT alumnus is helping to lead Bolivia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mohammed Mostajo-Radji ’11 (biotechnology) was appointed as Bolivia’s first ambassador for science, technology and innovation in February. He is typically based out of Silicon Valley, helping to encourage technology investment in Bolivia and facilitating exchanges between universities, technology companies, startups, and more.
But on March 19 he flew back home at the request of Bolivia’s interim president, Jeanine Áñez, to help coordinate his country’s efforts to combat COVID-19’s spread. His country faces many challenges in fighting the virus, including one of the world’s worst healthcare systems and a unique geographic predicament.
“Our country’s high altitude is by far our biggest challenge right now because most of the ventilators don’t work appropriately at this level,” said Mostajo-Radji. “We have large populations living at altitudes above 13,000 feet and most ventilators are made and tested at sea level. In the current market it’s already extremely difficult to get a ventilator, but maybe only 30 percent of them actually work here.”
But he is uniquely equipped to handle the rigors of the job. While at RIT, Mostajo-Radji developed an interest in science diplomacy, minoring in science, technology and society. For his senior thesis, he conducted experiments using Real-time polymerase chain reaction, the same equipment that is now commonly used to test for COVID-19. As he travels around Bolivia helping to set up testing labs, his experience with the equipment allows him to test a few samples to ensure everything is working properly.
After earning his degree at RIT, he went on to earn his Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology at Harvard University in 2017 and is currently also a postdoctoral scholar in regeneration medicine at University of California, San Francisco.
Mostajo-Radji said he is proud to serve in this capacity and enjoys the work, but when looking back he is shocked at how quickly everything has escalated.
“If you had asked me six months ago if I would have been doing this, I would have laughed,” he said.