Public Health Heroes

Today, the Harvard School of Public Health received a donation of $350 million from The Morningside Foundation, established by the family of the late T.H. Chan.  For full disclosure, I am a public health professional and student at Harvard University in a program related to the renamed Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This generous gift will: 

focus on four global health threats: pandemics old and new, such as malaria, Ebola, cancer, and obesity; harmful physical and social environments such as those resulting from tobacco use, gun violence, and pollution; poverty and humanitarian crises such as those stemming from war and natural disasters; and failing health care systems around the world.

I am thrilled that people are talking about the importance of public health and have been paying even closer attention to public health workers with the recent horrific Ebola outbreak. However, this pails in comparison to the credit that public health workers deserve and to the amount of accolade they have received in the past.

Here is a quote from Samuel H. Preston in American Longevity: Past Present, and Future

So this explanation [of the cause of increase in life expectancy] emphasizes a fundamental scientific advance, the germ theory, as implemented by public health officials and, perhaps more importantly, aggressively disseminated by them to an extremely eager audience. Public health officials were heroes. Shortly after his death in 1923, Cornell University students and faculty proclaimed Herman Biggs, former Public Health Commissioner of New York City and then of New York State, their most outstanding alumnus. It’s hard to imagine a bureaucrat of any stripe, let alone a health commissioner, receiving such and accolade today. 

So thank a public health professional today. They improve your water, vaccinate your children, fight heart-wrenching outbreaks, clean your air, and most importantly help you live longer. Make them heroes again. 

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