In the latest edition of the dean's letter, Dean Klag outlines the Bloomberg School's efforts during the Ebola epidemic and other global contributions.
It seems that I spent most of last month in the air—from Asia to the Arabian Gulf to the western U.S. No matter where I went, it was apparent that now is a time of great threats to the health and safety of large swaths of the world’s population. War is raging in Syria and Iraq. In West Africa, the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history expands every day. The equally deadly MERS-CoV virus continues to infect people in Saudi Arabia. In our own country, we have witnessed one of the most devastating race riots since the 1960s. Bleak times, for sure. Some days it takes a real effort to listen to the morning news programs.
Then I come to work. Interacting with the Bloomberg School community makes me feel hopeful about the future of the human race. Our faculty, students and alumni see not only problems, they see solutions. And make them happen. In this letter, I want to give you a brief summary of what the Bloomberg School is doing. It’s just a sliver of the global contributions that we make every day, but it gives you an idea of this School’s remarkable impact.
Tolbert Nyenswah earned his MPH here in 2013 and now is facing the greatest challenge of his life. As Liberia’s assistant minister of health, he is on the forefront of his country’s efforts against the Ebola epidemic. The lack of a strong health infrastructure and the tragic deaths of the leading experts in Ebola and many frontline health care workers have made the swiftly moving virus extremely difficult to control. Using the knowledge and skills acquired here, Tolbert is doing heroic work coordinating Liberia’s response with WHO and other organizations. An associate in International Health, Tolbert still has close ties to the School. David Peters, International Health chair, has helped connect him with drug manufacturers who have provided experimental treatments and the promise of a potential vaccine trial. Tolbert, David and Sachiko Ozawa, a faculty member at the School, are analyzing the underlying reasons for distrust of the government by health workers and the public. David, Josh Epstein (a School of Medicine professor with joint appointments at our School) and others are also advising UNICEF and the health ministries of Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo on managing the outbreak and rebuilding health systems. With USAID support, the Center for Communication Programs (CCP) is sending experts to help coordinate behavioral interventions for emergency response and prevention in Liberia and to support UNICEF in Guinea. The Bloomberg School’s Derek Cummings and colleagues are using computer models to learn more about the Ebola epidemic (as well as MERS in Saudi Arabia). Research, communication, public health practice—all Bloomberg School strengths—are essential in confronting devastating epidemics.
Recognizing the urgency of the Ebola epidemic, Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels and I convened a special symposium here at the School on October 14. Led by Andrew Pekosz, an associate professor in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, the symposium gathered 15 experts to discuss the epidemic’s impact, explore better responses, learn about the latest vaccines and therapeutic options, and delve into other issues. I was pleased that we could pull together such an impressive event in less than a week. Being able to draw on the “deep bench” of experts here at Johns Hopkins and connections with other institutions made this terrific symposium possible. Sommer Hall was filled to capacity, more than 6,400 unique viewers tuned in to the live webcast, and thousands more saw the conference that night on C-SPAN. (For more about the event, visit this page.)
The School’s Center for Refugee and Disaster Response (CRDR) is also doing critical work to help the nearly 3 million Syrians who have fled their brutal civil war. Shannon Doocy, William Weiss, Gilbert Burnham and others have led a national survey in Jordan and are planning another in Lebanon to determine health status and access to health care of refugees in urban areas. CRDR is also launching a two-year project to look at noncommunicable disease management among refugees in Lebanon. They also are assessing the cost-effectiveness and contextual appropriateness of humanitarian assistance provided by cash vs. e-vouchers to improve household food security and protection. CRDR’s partners include WHO, the UN Commission on Human Rights, the UN World Food Programme, local universities and NGOs. I’m proud that when global organizations need the best possible strategies and evidence for expending scarce resources, they turn to our School.
While global crises capture our attention and demand responses, we all know that the road to population health requires a long-lasting commitment and capacity in research, education and practice. For nearly a century our School has prepared legions of students for that journey while also supporting faculty efforts to generate essential evidence and design programs that solve big problems.
Let me give you an example of how this works in the field. In August, I met a large number of alumni during a trip to Jakarta, Indonesia. Despite the 40-year span of their graduation dates, these alumni told me a consistent story: They have great respect and affection for our faculty who made them work hard, inspired them and transferred a passion for public health.
This was my first trip to Indonesia, and I was amazed to discover the impact our faculty and alumni have had there.
- My predecessor Al Sommer began his groundbreaking work on vitamin A in Indonesia. Al and Keith West led community trials there as well—demonstrating that a 4-cent dose of vitamin A not only prevented and cured eye disease but also reduced childhood deaths by 34 percent.
- The Bloomberg School, through the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, CCP and Jhpiego (an affiliated institution), has had a long and fruitful history of working with the Indonesian government and civil society groups. Nearly 12,000 Indonesian midwives have been certified as providing high-quality family planning services through a program called Bidan Delima—launched jointly by BKKBN (Indonesia’s National Family Planning Coordinating Board) and by CCP and Jhpiego with USAID funding.
- Our work with BKKBN and others helped create the largest private sector network of family planning services, the Blue Circle Program.
- Advance Family Planning, launched by our Gates Institute, developed partnerships at the district level to create locally led family planning advocacy working groups.
- We also provided technical expertise that supported the development of the country’s avian influenza strategic plan.
- Finally, the Gates Institute looks forward to co-hosting more than 3,000 delegates from around the world at the 4th International Conference on Family Planning to be held in Jakarta, Nov. 9–12, 2015.
The same realization occurs every time I visit a country where we have been working: The efforts of our faculty, students and alumni make the world a better place. Whether dealing with swift-moving epidemics, man-made crises, or day-in, day-out battles with countless challenges to health, they fight to develop evidence and better solutions.
In short, they make me feel good about the future of the human race.
Thank you for your support and stay well,