Nasser Diallo, B.A. ’18, was just 9 years old when he became, for all intents and purposes, his father’s primary caregiver.
Growing up in a rural community in Guinea, Diallo watched his dad struggle with diabetes, the “silent killer,” he said, that is still rampant throughout the impoverished West African nation. It was Diallo’s job to help his father manage his medications and maintain a healthy diet. And it was Diallo who accompanied him on 14-hour trips to the capital Conakry, where the nearest physician could write prescriptions and check his blood glucose levels.
“I turned myself into a little doctor,” Diallo remembered, “not because I had the skills, but because I was there at the right time, and I needed to help my dad.”
Eventually, the burdens of Guinea’s skeletal infrastructure—from affording the $12 medication and the $22 travel fare in a nation where many people make less than $3 a day to navigating the dearth of clean drinking water and proper sanitation—were too much for his father to overcome. He died from complications due to diabetes when Diallo was a teenager.
Diallo saw the same health crises consume his neighbors. In the past decade, Guinea has suffered outbreaks of Ebola, measles, Lassa fever and Marburg virus—along with COVID-19 and the everyday epidemics of diabetes, high-blood pressure and malaria. And throughout West Africa, experts estimate that 100 million people lack adequate access to health care.
“I was traumatized by how broken the system was,” Diallo said. “I promised myself that I would do something to help—however I can.”
Now, the former political communication major and recent recipient of a Spirit of GW award is making good on that vow. He’s the founder and CEO of Clinic+O, a tech platform that connects medical providers with low-income communities in Guinea, bringing primary care services to people who may never have seen a doctor in their lives.
Pairing telemedicine with on-the-ground community health care workers, Clinic+O—the “O” stands for oublié, the French word for “forgotten”—has provided virtual and in-person medical consultations to more than 35,000 patients since 2020. It’s enabled checkups and screenings, pharmaceutical services and home care visits—without the crushing expenses of travel and fees. Diallo’s work has been recognized by Echoing Green and the Obama Foundation Leaders Africa Program.
But Diallo sees it as just a first step. He plans to expand the project into Uganda, Senegal and Liberia in 2024. His long-term goal is nothing short of transforming health care throughout Africa.
“I have seen people dying from pneumonia and diarrhea—conditions that cost literally a few dollars to treat,” he said. “This can’t go on.”
Diallo began his professional career as a journalist in Guinea. But in 2009, after reporting on a government assault on a protest rally in Conakry, he feared for his own life and fled to France. He eventually arrived in New York City, teaching himself English at public libraries and attending community college.
When he transferred to GW in 2014, Diallo had never written an English-language paper longer than five pages, he said—and he still remembers his panic when he was assigned a 30-page midterm. “I thought, ‘How will I ever do this?’” he recalled. But he credits GW faculty—like Professor of Media and Public Affairs Steven Livingston and Associate Professor of Writing Jessica McCaughey—with “empowering me and supporting me,” he said.
“In my 32 years at GW, I have met many extraordinary students. Nasser Diallo is certainly one of them,” Livingston said. “His personal story of endurance and fortitude…is the stuff of legends. He is a remarkable human being.”
Even while studying at Foggy Bottom, Diallo’s home country was never far from his mind. During a 2017 study abroad project in France, he worked on social media campaigns to reform elections in West Africa. His 2018 GW New Venture Competition project proposed ways to transform waste management in Conakry. In 2019, he returned to Guinea as a public policy analyst with Facebook, designing programs to nurture digital literacy and improve technology access in sub-Saharan Africa.
He began Clinic+0 from his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment, connecting a handful of doctors to just a few patients in Guinea through a WhatsApp number and a Google Doc. After six months, he left Facebook to devote himself to Clinic+0, splitting his time between his wife and two young children in New York and the Guinea region where his siblings still live.
“I have been extremely privileged to come to the United States, to study at GW, to work at Facebook,” he said. “It is an obligation for me to pay that back.”
The Clinic+O model
In the Clinic+O model, community health workers go door-to-door in rural Guinea communities screening for high-blood pressure, testing glucose levels and promoting good nutrition. If a patient shows signs of, for example, hypertension or diabetes, they are connected remotely with qualified health care providers. Clinic+O also ships medications to district hubs where the community workers distribute it. Recalling his father’s struggles, Diallo said it’s “key to take away barriers like transportation costs or time burdens—things that make people give up on their care.” At the same, Clinic+O promotes much-needed digital literacy skills through donated smartphones, tablets and internet services.
“What makes [Nasser] a great leader is not just his willingness to listen to other people,” McCaughey said, “but his real desire to hear those experiences…whether that is listening to or traveling to rural remote villages in Africa to really understand the needs of those communities.”
And while Diallo sees himself as a “small player,” he has big goals. In addition to improving access to health care, Diallo hopes Clinic+O can prepare future generations to address systematic challenges like poverty and education in West Africa.
“We want to raise awareness, we want to enable an environment that ensures universal access to health coverage, and we want to change policy,” he said. “Not just for a village. Not just for a country. But for 650 million people.”