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Acting Locally

By Sylvia Eggleston Wehr

Baltimore City's average life expectancy is just 68.6 years—among the lowest in the United States. A few miles away in Baltimore County, life expectancy is 76.9 years. And in nearby Montgomery County, it's 81.3. So often we think of public health in its international context, but statistics like these remind us of the urgent needs right at our doorstep.

From his earliest days as dean, Mike Klag has emphasized two priorities for the School: Africa and East Baltimore. Last spring, this magazine detailed the School's varied work in Africa. This issue focuses on urban health and highlights our programs in East Baltimore, the community immediately surrounding the School. As a practicing internist, Mike had many East Baltimoreans as patients and often made house calls in the area. Beyond recognizing a moral imperative to help our neighbors, the University will benefit in many ways by being part of a healthy, thriving city. As Bob Blum, interim director of the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute, says, "We cannot have a flourishing university in a disintegrating community."

In their commitment, Bob Blum and Mike Klag are joined by the School's students, who have long made the health of the surrounding community a focus of their efforts. Our students are the kind of people who feel a commitment to whatever part of the world they are in, whether it be East Baltimore, Los Angeles, Kampala or Kabul. As Jason Vassy, MPH '06 notes, "Opportunities for engagement in public health surround us every day. Truly motivated people will take advantage of those opportunities."

Last year, the School's first class of Sommer Scholars (who are selected for their outstanding scholarly and leadership potential) were quick to seize such an opportunity. Soon after arriving in Baltimore, they launched a tutoring program with Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary School, which is less than a mile from the School. They have provided math and literacy tutoring every week to students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The Sommer Scholars were able to establish this relationship quickly by working with SOURCE, a Johns Hopkins program that links students from the Schools of Public Health, Medicine and Nursing with more than 90 community-based organizations in Baltimore City.

As you will read in the pages that follow, faculty at the School are also working on the frontlines to improve the health of urban communities, in East Baltimore and across the nation. If you're like me, you'll find the articles on urban health—from bolstering immigrant health to improving the quality of our cities' air and water—both inspiring and hopeful.