Portrait of Dean Klag

The Tomorrow Strategy

We’re maximizing our impact by unleashing the power of academic public health worldwide.

A Note from Dean Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH ’87

Almost 1.4 billion people. That’s the current population of China. A lot of mouths to feed, people to employ, health care to deliver... If you care about global public health, you must care about the health of China.

Back in 2008, I was wrestling with a strategic question: How does our School bring its resources to bear to improve public health in China? After consulting with our faculty in Baltimore, officials at the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C., and partners in China, we decided we could best maximize our impact by strengthening Chinese academic public health. There were already several world-class schools of public health in China, and the number of schools was increasing rapidly. We decided to create a multilateral network to engage leaders of Chinese schools of public health. Periodic meetings would allow us to learn from each other. Since our first leadership meeting in Baltimore in 2009, we have met at Peking University in Beijing twice, at Fudan University in Shanghai, and again back in Baltimore.

We talk about the esoteric details of academic administration that only deans care about (academic appointments, accreditation, etc.), but we also look at the big picture. In the aftermath of the terrible Sichuan earthquake of May 12, 2008, for example, we discussed how research and evaluation of disaster response allows design of the most effective disaster interventions.

These discussions have spawned collaborations between our School and Chinese schools, created a pathway for visiting faculty from China and provided deep insights about the challenges to ensuring public health in China. We looked with envy at the Chinese government’s commitment to schools of public health. At the time of our first meeting, for example, research budgets were increasing by 30 percent per year.

At the most recent meeting in November, I asked the pregnant question of our Chinese colleagues: Was all this effort, travel and time away from our day jobs worth it for them as well?

The answer was incredibly warm and positive, but the reasons underlying that resounding affirmation were unexpected. The Chinese deans meet relatively frequently, but those meetings are taken up with packed agendas related to finances, curricula and government initiatives. Our meetings, in contrast, encourage us to think strategically about leadership, how to strengthen our institutions and how to best meet the public health challenges of the 21st century.

CRYSTAL CLEAR: Snow drapes an idyllic part of Beijing’s Tsinghua University, a partner in the Bloomberg School’s efforts to build global academic public health. Credit: Michael J. Klag

When I was in China for the most recent gathering of deans, we also met with Johns Hopkins Beijing alumni. Almost 200 alumni from across the University attended. It was a wonderful way to mark our School’s Centennial and our long history of working in China. (Be sure to see the photos in "The Last Pixel" that testify to this.) An alumnus told me that while many foreign universities collaborate with Chinese schools of public health, we are the only one that took the approach of convening leaders from many different universities with the goal of building strong institutions. His observation was a wonderful affirmation of one of our core strategies: We strengthen public health around the world by building local capacity and infrastructure.

Indeed, this is a global strategy for the Bloomberg School. We have also reached out to schools of public health in Latin America, a region with a long legacy of academic public health with strong schools. For example, the University of São Paulo (USP) School of Public Health was founded in 1928 and was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation (as were we). In April 2014, we met on the USP campus with leaders of 10 of the top schools of public health in Latin America to discuss how we might accomplish more together. We came out of that meeting with an affirmation of our shared commitment to improving equity and a decision to begin collaborating through a virtual network of academics committed to studying health inequities. Universidad del Norte in Colombia took on the leadership role of creating a website and a listserv that unites faculty from all of the schools. Since then, follow-up meetings have strengthened the bond that began in São Paulo.

It is this same belief in the power of public health that motivated Amy Tsui, when she led the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, to invest in a number of schools of medicine in Africa, inviting their faculty and leadership to Baltimore for short courses and establishing research collaborations. From these seeds, six schools of public health have sprouted or expanded their degree programs—Addis Ababa University School of Public Health (Ethiopia) and Kwame Nkrumah University’s School of Public Health (Ghana), University of Ghana, University of Ibadan (Nigeria), Obafemi Awolowo University (Nigeria) and Assiut University (Egypt), with additional research centers for reproductive health established in Makerere University (Uganda) and the University of Malawi.

We believe that these efforts, tailored to the local context, serve to identify and prepare future leaders who will solve the challenges of the coming century. In strengthening academic public health around the globe, we are making a better, healthier tomorrow.

klag signatureFebruary 2016