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Into Africa

By Sylvia Eggleston Wehr

Through our faculty, students and alumni, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has been involved in health in Africa for decades. International Health professor Robert Wright, for example, spent a good part of his career (from the early 1960s until his death in 1981) working in West Africa, and especially in Nigeria at the newly founded University of Lagos. Much of what he advocated holds relevance today. He noted how one study demonstrated that a nurse and local midwives with limited pediatrician support could reduce infant mortality.

We've been talking for several years about doing a magazine devoted to health in Africa. In many countries there, fragile health systems threaten to be overwhelmed by a perfect storm of public health problems, including HIV/AIDS, antibiotic-resistant TB, malaria, poor nutrition, unsafe drinking water, and the growing impact of chronic disease, aging, injuries and environmental stresses. The challenges are great, but African policy makers are showing renewed commitment to public health programs, international initiatives are making important contributions, and African universities are training new generations of skilled researchers and leaders.

Our new dean, Mike Klag, has made improving health in Africa one of his major priorities for the School. To get a firsthand introduction, Mike, Health Advisory Board member Tom DeRosa and development director Sally O'Brien visited the School's projects in Cameroon, Uganda, Zambia and South Africa in February. Their experiences (and Mike's photos) are included in this issue. So are the words and images of the magazine's editor Brian Simpson and photographer David Colwell, who traveled to Africa in January to document the work of the School's Malaria Research Institute, its Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health and other projects.

Just last month, Gilbert Burnham, co-director of the School's Center for Refugee and Disaster Response, announced that the School had been awarded a five-year, $2 million USAID grant to strengthen the capacity of public health schools in East Africa. Initially, Gil and his colleagues will work with Makerere University in Uganda and Muhimbili College of Health Sciences in Tanzania. Gil calls it "an exciting new opportunity to help the two schools build public health leadership capacity" that will extend to the neighboring countries of Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

As a School, we are optimistic about health and development in Africa. Thanks to growing access to the Internet, the School's OpenCourseWare project is reaching health care workers in Africa and in other places around the world with new information and support. We hope you'll share our commitment to improving health in Africa and our optimism as you read the stories in this special issue.