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Health and Security

By Sylvia Eggleston Wehr

In a world bedeviled by global insecurity, political unrest, and the threat of war, we all look hard for solutions.

From the School’s perspective, it is clear that any nation seeking stability and progress must ensure a basic level of health for its people. Without populations freed from chronic illness and high rates of infant, child, and maternal mortality, it is difficult to envision a country having the productive economy and stable society that can contribute to global security.

As I read this issue’s stories, I was struck once more by the School’s national and international efforts to prevent infectious diseases and tobacco-related illnesses and to protect the health and lives of millions of people.

This issue chronicles past heroic efforts—like developing a simple oral solution to combat cholera—and heralds advances in controlling malaria and smoking-related mortality and morbidity. I can think of no more effective treatment for the world’s problems than the preservation of health and the reduction of disease. If this sounds like an unabashed advertisement for the wonders of public health, it is. 

A recent trip made this all the more real. In January, Al Sommer and I accompanied a group of the School’s Health Advisory Board members and their spouses, along with some of the University’s trustees, to Thailand. We traveled under the auspices of Honorary Committee member HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Shepherded by faculty members David Celentano and Chris Beyrer, we visited the School’s AIDS projects in Chiang Mai and many of the royal projects throughout Thailand. We were all overwhelmed by the improvements in health, education, and productive enterprise. Most stunning of all is the reduction in AIDS cases. The rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission has declined by more than two-thirds, and the prevalence in young men (21-year-old military conscripts) has dropped from 12 percent in 1993 to less than 1 percent in 2000. Sadly, rates among drug users, especially those injecting heroin, remain very high.

David Celentano leads an incredible program with colleagues at Chiang Mai University, and Chris Beyrer heads the Fogarty International AIDS Training and Research Program. Princess Sirindhorn showed us numerous programs that move farmers from growing poppies for opium to raising crops like coffee beans, macadamia nuts, and vegetables. These efforts demonstrate how public health vision and commitment can improve health, productivity, and prosperity. 

As you read on, I hope you will share my sense of excitement and urgency about what can be done. The School is a remarkable place, with remarkable leadership. Read the account of Al Sommer’s time at the World Economic Forum, for example. His vision, along with those of Celentano, Beyrer, and thousands of other School faculty, alumni, and students, warrants our enthusiasm and optimism.