Where others see insurmountable challenges, Johnathan Miller sees opportunities. This is what led him to serve as president of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, where he worked to help cut the slaughter pipeline and provide a safe and humane retirement to hundreds of equine retirees. That is why, in 2004, he created a foundation to transport health professionals and much needed drugs to Africa at the height of the HIV / AIDS pandemic.
Miller officially launched his latest charity venture on Tuesday. It was then that his foundation delivered the first of many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to rural villages in Botswana in southern Africa. Only four percent of the population has been vaccinated in Africa and very few of those living in remote areas of the continent have access to vaccines or any type of health care.
Miller resides on a farm in Paeonian Springs, Virginia with his wife Lisa and operates a small ranching operation. He was also the race advisor to late owner Magalen Ohrstrom “Maggie” Bryant, who campaigned for the 2014 winner of the GI Travers S. VE Day (Channel). But he is best known for his work in the public and private sectors, much of which relates to Africa.
“In addition to my fiancée, I have three passions in life: thoroughbred, aviation and Africa,” he said.
At the age of 30, he headed the Peace Corps branch in Botswana and would later become the United States Peace Corps Regional Director for Africa, a position he held until early this year. He also held various positions within the Reagan administration and the George HW Bush administrations, managing the day-to-day operations of Reagan’s executive office and serving as senior director of the National Security Council. He is the founder of Bluemont International, a company that advises clients looking to do business in emerging markets.
Somehow he found the time to create the Airborne Lifeline Foundation. The foundation uses small planes and helicopters to bring medical personnel and supplies to African villages that were otherwise inaccessible.
“Years ago, during the HIV / AIDS pandemic, it became clear that if you were in rural southern Africa, you were not getting treatment, and not just for HIV / AIDS. You weren’t getting anything in terms of medical care, ”Miller said. “The HIV / AIDS pandemic was raging in Botswana, where I was the National Director of the Peace Corps. I looked at the situation and decided that we had to send people for preventive care to these rural areas. I formed a foundation with my wife and signed an agreement with the Botswana Ministry of Health. We then expanded to Malawi and Zambia. For eight years, we regularly sent preventive care specialists to very remote clinics. I had to mortgage my farm to get there because, at the beginning, no one was supporting us.
He eventually secured funding from PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), Merck and Co. Pharmaceuticals, and some private donors.
In 2018, Miller decided to devote himself to his work leading the Peace Corps in Africa and hit the pause button at the Airborne Lifeline Foundation. But he didn’t stay away for long. As COVID rages around the world and Africa lacks the resources to deal with the pandemic, Miller has decided to relaunch his foundation.
“I looked at the situation and decided that we need to restart and send people for preventive care to rural areas,” he said. “Once we knew we could get our hands on the vaccine, we made a plan to get them to remote villages. Otherwise, the people in those villages simply wouldn’t get vaccinated. They can get them in urban areas, but not in villages. Everyone said it was a great idea and we started to come up with a game plan. “
Most of the vaccines entering Africa have been donated and come from the United States or the United Kingdom. After they arrive in urban centers in Africa, it is the Miller Foundation’s job to ship them to rural areas.
“We’re kind of the last mile,” he said. “First you have to get the big supplies to the capitals and major regions. “
Miller said Tuesday’s destinations were to include 17 villages in Botswana. On Monday, he was informed by the President of Namibia that his country was seeking to participate in the program. Miller also hoped to be able to start flights to Zambia and Malawi soon.
At the start of the pandemic, Africa was not hit that hard by COVID, Miller said.
“For a long time in Africa, despite the fact that they weren’t getting vaccinated, there hadn’t been a real peak,” he said. “People have all kinds of different theories on this. Is it because they are so exposed to malaria, Ebola and other diseases? No one really knew. But all of a sudden they start to have higher incident rates. It exploded in South Africa.
Another problem, Miller said, is the economic impact COVID has had on African countries.
“We are doing it not only for health reasons, but for economic reasons,” he said. “Countries like Botswana depend on tourism to generate hard currency and they cannot open safari camps because staff have not been vaccinated. The economic record in Africa has been horrendous. This will probably set them back 20 years. You cannot open these countries until you distribute the vaccines. “
The continent’s overall goal is to have 70% of the population vaccinated by the end of 2022. This can only happen if Miller and like-minded people ensure that the vaccine reaches remote areas. It will take a tremendous amount of time and effort, but this is what is needed to reverse what might otherwise be a crisis.
“At the end of the day, what you want to do is get to the point where it’s more like flu season,” Miller said. “It’s going to take a long time, but we’re determined to make it happen. This summer, everyone in America was feeling a little smug that we solved this problem, but until we are taken care of by the whole world, it will come back to bite us again and again.