portrait of Dean Mike Klag

Open Mike: The Visionary

Michael Bloomberg has an intuitive understanding of the power of public health—and knows a good investment when he sees one.

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

Thanks to one visionary, we are going to spark a revolution in health.

It’s a bold goal to improve the health of entire communities—one we’ve pursued relentlessly since 1916. Our School exists because a great philanthropist, John D. Rockefeller, recognized the power of public health and the need for new models of research, education and training. Now, a great, modern philanthropist and visionary, Mike Bloomberg, has invested $300 million in the Bloomberg American Health Initiative to immeasurably strengthen our School’s efforts to address five focus areas that are having drastic effects on American health. (See "A New Dawn for Public Health" for the details.)

As dean of the Bloomberg School, I’m beyond grateful. But we all should be because of the positive changes we and our partnering organizations will be able to have on health in the U.S. This remarkable gift not only will help us chart a new course for American health, it also demonstrates the power that one person can have to do good.

In fulfilling the mission to protect health and save lives, all of us in public health have our roles. Students acquire knowledge and skills to become future leaders. Faculty pursue research and create solutions to vexing questions. Alumni use the tools they’ve gained while students to change the world. Public health practitioners in health departments and NGOs work with communities to secure health for all. Donors large and small support our efforts. Policymakers have the power to enact new strategies based on the best evidence. When public health works, we’re all doing our part and pulling in the same direction.

And when public health is not working, as when the U.S. ranks 31st in life expectancy among developed nations, we need a quantum advance. We need someone like Mike Bloomberg.

As mayor of New York City from 2002 through 2013, Mike took principled stands on critical public health issues and led incredibly effective change. He instituted a ban on smoking in public places. Once New York led the way, many other cities and countries followed. Under his leadership and a revitalized, data-driven department of health led by Tom Frieden (now CDC director), New York accumulated astounding advances in health: Life expectancy in the city increased by more than three years during his tenure as mayor. He and his team achieved this massive impact largely by taking on the most difficult of challenges: noncommunicable diseases profoundly influenced by human behaviors. I can’t imagine an elected official who has embraced public health to greater effect.

Michael Bloomberg standing at a podium.

It’s a small wonder then that in August of this year, the WHO named Mike its Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases. More than perhaps anyone else, he recognizes the power of cities and NGOs to bring about change. While national consensus and action can require years and years of work, cities (even large ones) can respond more nimbly—a smart play in our increasingly urbanized world. His successful real world experience with business, politics, communities and bureaucracies at the city and international levels will guide him in his new role as he works to inspire cities and countries to engage in the effort to reduce NCDs like heart disease, cancer and stroke. The need is urgent: Currently NCDs cause 38 million deaths worldwide each year.

On top of Mike’s accomplishments as an elected official, he is an incredibly generous philanthropist. Certainly here at the school that bears his name, he has made great change possible—even before the Bloomberg American Health Initiative. As I survey areas where the Bloomberg School has made some of its greatest impacts in the last couple of decades, I find a consistent association: Support from Michael Bloomberg. Let me give you a few examples: The Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute (led by our resident Nobel laureate Peter Agre) is making striking advances in the long war against the malaria parasite and the mosquito vector. Our Sommer Scholars program (named in honor of my predecessor Al Sommer) has been training new leaders in public health for more than a decade now. The Institute for Global Tobacco Control has done pathbreaking research while educating cohorts from all over the world in the intricacies of preventing death by tobacco. We’ve also made great strides in road safety, gun violence prevention, health behaviors, collection of data on births and deaths in low- and middle-income countries, mental health, drowning prevention and many other areas.

All of these remarkable programs are possible because of the support of Mike Bloomberg.

We, at the Bloomberg School—but really everyone across the globe—are fortunate that Michael R. Bloomberg has chosen to invest his effort and resources in public health. In 2005 when I first met him, it was immediately evident that he understands—and demands—data. He has an intuitive grasp of the power of public health, of the astounding cumulative impact when safe, cost-effective preventive interventions are applied to populations. A keen businessman, Mike knows a good investment when he sees one.

Through the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, Mike has given us an ambitious challenge, one we are eager to take on as we begin our second century of protecting health and saving lives—millions at a time.