Dr. Mehret Mandefro is a public health-trained physician, filmmaker, and interdisciplinary scholar with a background in anthropology. Her primary research interests include the connections between human rights and health, and all of her research and media work focuses on issues at the intersection of health and society.
After graduating from TJ in 1994, Dr. Mandefro received her BA and MD from Harvard University, obtained a Master’s of Science in the Public Health of Developing Countries at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as a Fulbright Scholar, and completed a residency in primary care internal medicine at Montefiore Hospital. She has worked on HIV prevention and treatment in Kenya, Botswana, South Africa, Ethiopia, and New York. Dedicated to public service, she was appointed by President Barack Obama as a White House Fellow to work on behavioral health policy issues for returning Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan War and subsequently served as a health policy advisor at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She currently teaches in the Department of Health Policy at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, serves on the Board of Directors of an international reproductive health organization, and is writing a textbook that chronicles the history of public health from ancient to modern times.
Film became part of Dr. Mandefro’s public health arsenal early on when her internal medicine residency research project was featured in a documentary, “All of Us,” that aired on Showtime Networks from 2008 to 2010. Then, as a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar, she received training in film production, directed her first film, and received a pilot grant that enabled her to create the nonprofit production company Truth Aid, where she recently produced the feature-length narrative film “Difret.” The film, which tells the story of a legal precedent-setting case that outlawed the practice of abduction for marriage in Ethiopia, won the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in January and the audience award for Best Fiction Film at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival in February. “Producing DIFRET with my husband has been a true labor of love that took several years, so to see it out in the world winning awards has been thrilling,” Mandefro said.
When Mandefro isn’t flying overseas to receive awards, running her non-profit, writing a book or working on her next project, she’s with her 9-month old son Lukas. “He keeps me very busy at the moment. I’m enjoying being a mom and figuring out how to maintain an active creative life.”
When asked to reflect back on her TJ years, Mandefro is grateful. “My time at TJ was a formative part of my educational experiences that taught me how to think outside the box and provided me with the tools to think creatively about my future. Thanks in part to TJ, I have managed to cobble together a career that marries art and science while prioritizing social impact, and I am forever indebted.”