wan Kew Lai, MD, DMD is a Harvard Medical faculty physician, with a specialty in

infectious diseases. She is a disaster relief medical volunteer who has volunteered her medical services all over the world.

Originally from Penang, Malaysia, Lai came to the United States after receiving a scholarship to attend Wellesley. Following her alma mater’s motto of non ministrari sed ministrare, not to be ministered but to minister, she tries to pay it forward.

Lai volunteered in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Vietnam, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, and Malawi. She

Dr. Kwan Kew Lai

Photograph by Charles FitzGibbon

responded to natural disasters such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal, drought and famine in Kenya and the Somalian border, hurricane in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and the gulf coast, and to outbreaks such as cholera in Haiti. During the greatest Ebola outbreak in Africa, she treated Ebola patients in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The COVID pandemic drove her to volunteer at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York, and on the US Virgin Island of St. Croix.


She worked with the refugees of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Uganda, refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Sub-Saharan Africa on mainland Greece, and in Moria Camp on the Greek Island of Lesvos, and in war-torn South Sudan, Libya, and Yemen.


When the crackdown of the Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar army caused them to flee to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Lai spent time in the biggest refugee camp in the world.


Lai has received awards for her work, which include being a three-time recipient of the President's Volunteer Service Award. Wellesley College awarded her the Distinguished Alumna Award and Chicago Medical School, the Distinguished Alumni Service Award.

She is the lead author of many professional publications and presentations in her field and a contributor to the Infectious Disease Society Science Speaks blog posts.

She paints when she is inspired and exhibits her artwork at the Belmont Art Gallery. She is also a marathon runner.