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Irving Williams Sr
Dr. Irving C. Williams – Medical Director, AHEAD

Dr. Irving C. Williams,

Medical Director, AHEAD

In 1974, Dr. Irving Williams took his wife, Elvira, and their four small children to live in Tanzania where he served as pediatric consultant to the Ministry of Health. For two years, he witnessed children suffering and dying from a host of preventable conditions: measles, malaria, tetanus, polio and diarrheal diseases. He returned to the United States with a mission: to provide comprehensive health services to children at home and in Africa.

That commitment led Williams and his wife, Elvira Felton Williams, to establish Adventures in Health, Education and Agricultural Development or AHEAD in 1981. This community-based non-governmental organization works to reduce infant and child mortality, and improve the health of people living in underserved communities. More than 1.5 million children have benefited directly or indirectly from Dr. Williams’ work.

Williams has provided primary healthcare in one-room schools and under trees. He works wherever he can hang a scale and set up a pressure cooker to sterilize needles and a cooler to store vaccines.

Formula for Good Health: Nutrition, Education and Agriculture

Williams used agricultural skills he’d learned on his family farm to improve nutrition in Tanzania. He taught healthcare workers and villagers to grow high-quality foods for infants and youth. Child mortality fell so dramatically, parents and medical workers dubbed Williams the “farming doctor.” Each project involves healthcare professionals and community residents in an “each-one-teach-one” approach. For example, the AHEAD water purification project trained 315 facilitators to pasteurize drinking water with solar cookers. Those facilitators have subsequently taught the technique to 15,000 people in Tanzania and The Gambia.

Williams Work Gains International Accolades

In 2002, Willams won the Ashden Trust Award, the world’s only award for sustainable energy, for the water pasteurization project. UNICEF recognized AHEAD for raising child immunization rates from 27 percent to 98 percent in its target villages in Tanzania. In 2005 he won the $100,000 Cardinal Health Children’s Care Award ( for his “lifetime contributions to the health and well-being of children.” The honor is administered by World of Children, an international nonprofit that supports and recognizes child advocacy.

Williams has several degrees: a BS from Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.; an MS in Biochemistry and MD from Howard University; and an MPH from Johns Hopkins University. He has completed post-doctoral work in adolescent medicine at Harvard University.

Quick facts about Dr. Irving Williams


  • BS, Morgan State University
  • MS, Biochemistry, MD, Howard University
  • MPH, Johns Hopkins University
  • Post Doctoral Work, Adolescent Medicine, Harvard University


  • Established a series of outreach programs that offered primary health care to children of high-risk families in Boston.
  • Established Adventures in Health Education and Agricultural Development
  • Established the Teen Action Project in Washington D.C. to prevent teens from engaging in high-risk behavior

Recognition and Awards:

  • 1974 The pediatric clinic of the Martha Eliot Health Center of Harvard University renamed the Irving C Williams honor
  • 2002 Ashden Trust Award winner for AHEAD water pasteurization project
  • 2005 Cardinal Health Children’s Care Award for lifetime contributions to the health and well being of children