GHP@50: Fifty Years of Capacity-building Partnerships

The first time he heard the phrase “global health,” Barry Bloom, former Dean of Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), was at the Institute of Medicine (IOM), where he chaired the board of what was then called International Health. One day the newest board member – an outsider from Mexico named Julio Frenk – raised his hand with an objection. “Health is no longer international but global,” Frenk told the board. “It’s a shared set of problems that are faced by all the countries of the world; diseases don’t respect national boundaries, and the economic costs of health don’t respect national budgets.” “We changed the name of the board,” said Bloom, now the Harvard Distinguished Service Professor and the Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Professor of Public Health, “and in that context it has changed people’s perceptions around the world.”

Bloom and Frenk – now HSPH Dean and the T&G Angelopoulos Professor of Public Health and International Development – were among those gathered on April 25, 2013, for GHP@50, the 50th anniversary symposium of the Department of Global Health and Population (GHP). Founded under Dean John C. Snyder (who also served as Acting Chair of the Department from 1962 to 1969), GHP has been an international change agent on issues such as the global burden of disease, human rights and reproductive rights, decision science, security issues in global health challenges, global health systems, innovative demographic and nutritional research initiatives, malaria and infectious disease. With nearly a dozen centers, initiatives, and programs, GHP is home to faculty who train students across the university. “We follow in the footsteps of giants,” said Department Chair, Wafaie Fawzi, the Richard Saltonstall Professor of Population Sciences, Professor of Nutrition, Epidemiology, and Global Health.

Some of those giants, such as Dr. Howard Hiatt, were present at the symposium.  Reflecting on the past 50 years, Hiatt – who served as HSPH Dean from 1972 to 1984 – highlighted the global health outlook of some of the school's and department's founding leaders. These include Richard Pearson Strong, first HMS professor of tropical medicine; Rose E. Frisch, a leader in women’s health; and Richard Cash; Cash, also present at the symposium, is co-founder of oral rehydration therapy, which has saved millions of lives. Harvard Medical School Dean, Jeffrey Flier, identified some of the research partnerships, teaching opportunities, and initiatives that have followed from collaboration with GHP faculty during his tenure at the medical school. Successful partnerships, said Bloom at the end of the first session, require "a Confucian concept of reciprocity: From day one, ask ‘What do you need that we can help you with?’” When they are collaborations for a lifetime, he concluded, "that’s the test of a great partnership.”

Such partnerships can change the future as they address the unfinished health agenda. In a panel moderated by Ana Langer, Professor of the Practice of Public Health and Coordinator of the Dean’s Special Initiative in Women and Health, Robert Black called for a renewal of political will, especially in childhood infectious diseases and nutritional problems; Michelle Williams emphasized the value of transdisciplinary research through a “life course” perspective; and Jaime Sepulveda – who spent a decade as Director-General of Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health and Dean of the National School of Public Health – pointed to the megatrends that shape emerging challenges in population health.

Nutrition is crucial, Kenneth Brown of the University of California, Davis, reminded the audience, particularly in "the first 1000 days" of life, and in adulthood, said Walter Willett, the Frederick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and Chair of the HSPH Department of Nutrition. Solutions require a multisectoral approach, emphasized Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School, pointing to development initiatives in Africa. The extensive debate over whether (and how) to strengthen health systems (and what this means) was evident in a lively panel exchange and audience discussion with Rifat Atun, Jono Quick, and Winnie Yip.

Evidence matters; this was the message three global health leaders emphasized in the afternoon's final session, on approaches to measuring and evaluating health and development.  Sue J. Goldie, the Roger Irving Lee Professor of Public Health at HSPH, Director of the Center for Health Decision Science, and Faculty Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute spoke on the vital translational role that decision science can play as we prepare for health challenges over the next 50 years.  Esther Duflo, MIT Professor and Co-founder and Director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT reiterated the huge responsibility to generate evidence, stay ahead of trends, and influence the technological journey to solutions. Majid Ezzati, Chair in Global Environmental Health at Imperial College, London, discussed several available research platforms for exploring global risk factors.

The evening concluded with poster awards, and a dinner session, in memory of former Department Chair, the late David E. Bell. Speakers included former Chairs, Lincoln C. Chen, Michael Reich, David Bloom. Other evening speakers included GHP faculty, Till Bärnighausen, Theresa Betancourt, Marcia Castro, Jessica Cohen, Goodarz Danaei, Günther Fink, and Margaret McConnell.

Read more about GHP@50:

Symposium videos
Symposium photos
Harvard Gazette

photo credit: Dominic Chavez

Thursday, June 27, 2013