Happy Memorial Day weekend! Admissions Services will be closing at 2pm today to start our long weekend a couple hours early. The office will also be closed on Monday, May 30, 2016. We will reopen and return to normal hours on Tuesday, May 31.
I hope you’re comfortable. It’s a long blog today!
When I heard the Berman Institute of Bioethics was hosting a lecture that featured “The Three Deans” (Dean Emeritus Donald Henderson, Dean Emeritus Al Sommer, and Dean Michael Klag), I knew I wanted to attend. With decades of public health experience in very different areas, I couldn’t even imagine some of the situations they faced.
Dean Emeritus D.A. Henderson’s experiences surrounded ethical questions regarding different vaccines. The one he focused on the most involved polio. As most people know, to take part in a clinical trial, participants must give informed consent to participate. But when the polio epidemics swept across Europe and North America, 2/3 of the population affected were children. Therefore, vaccine development focused on being successful in a child rather than an adult. Henderson was working for the CDC at that time and was part of a team that had two potential vaccines, one a dead virus that had been tested on mice and one a live virus tested on 20 children. The steps taken in the live virus were questionable and whichever vaccine the CDC decided to follow would not allow for the true meaning of informed consent as it must be tested on children. One of the largest medical experiments in history was the result of the group’s decision. As history shows, the dead vaccine trial was very successful and has led to almost eradicating polio across the world.
Alfred Sommer, also known as the “Vitamin A Guy”, had an entirely different ethical question on hand. In a randomized control trial in Indonesia, he and his team proved that a dose of Vitamin A could drastically reduce child mortality rates. The problem? Despite strong, statistically significant results, the scientific community did not accept Sommer’s trial. The skeptics won out over the science. Only the countries participating in the trials were willing to change their policies on Vitamin A. All four large scale trials gave the same results. Sommer explained he only conducted the fourth trial because he knew the children would benefit and the country’s policies would change. His problem? How to get all the countries to change their policies without doing more trials, and the larger ethical problem of how many randomized control trials are necessary to convince the scientific community? He pointed out the standards are clear on what is and isn’t statistically significant, but not on how many times must it be repeated. Unfortunately, there is still no answer within the scientific community.
Current Dean, Michael Klag, presented several ethical questions in his experience working as the Vice Dean for Clinical Investigation at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine from 2001-2005. In 2003, a patient in an asthma clinical trial died and all trials using human testing were stopped. The larger question was then what happens to the patients who are dependent on the treatment they are receiving in the trial? Klag’s own question was how to change a culture. At one point throughout the process, a doctor complained to him that the Internal Review Board (IRB) slowed down his progress. Indeed, this was the point. Although it seems illogical to slow down the progress of a trial, by slowing down, researchers have more time to absorb all possible results and outcomes as well as findings as they occur. Yes, they slow down the process, but the IRB can prevent unnecessary dangers and harmful outcomes. As would be expected with human testing, ethical questions still surround policies and procedures; but, by 2005 Klag’s leadership helped JHMI receive one of the highest ratings for their human testing policies.
As a whole, the Three Deans presented just a small portion of the ethical questions surrounding medicine and Public Health. And in reality, all three presented dilemmas that still have unanswered questions. But two weeks later, I’m still thinking about the problems these public health leaders faced in their careers thus far and how we can do better.
Over the last six months of working here at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, I’ve become far more aware of the many health problems facing countries and populations worldwide. Some of the research and accolades that filled me with a sense of awe when learning about the work and research being done by teams and individuals here has slowly been replaced with the idea that this is the norm. Then something happens—a breakthrough, an award or a news frenzy—that reminds me of the specialness and large scale outcomes of the work being done.
On May 5, 2016, Dr. Robert Black, MD, MPH, was awarded the 2016 Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Humanitarian Award by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Dr. Black is a member, and former chair, of the Department of International Health whose work focuses on reducing the number of unnecessary childhood deaths caused by infectious diseases in developing countries. His epidemiologic research connects infectious diseases and nutrition and he runs clinical and community-based trials on vaccines to prevent the diseases, such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. With the World Health Organization estimate that nearly two thirds of the 7 million child deaths happen in developing countries can be attributed to infectious diseases, it is not surprising that Dr. Black is being recognized for his efforts. He’s attempting to save life, literally millions at a time.
To write this blog, I began researching former recipients of the Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Humanitarian Award, which include Colin Powell, Former President Bill Clinton, and Bill and Melinda Gates. All common, recognizable names. Then I took a closer look at some other recipients, like David A. Walton, MD, MPH who changed medical care in Haiti, before and after the 2010 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Jennifer L. Howse, PhD, who, with the March of Dimes, pioneered incorporating Folic Acid in pregnant women’s diets to reduce birth defects. And Helene D. Gayle, MD, MPH (from Bloomberg of course,) who’s work on the national stage as the 16th Surgeon General of the United States as well as her work with AIDS/HIV research in West Africa make her recognizable worldwide.
Now, residing among this group of amazing individuals, is a professor whose office is only a few floors above my own little cubicle. And my sense of awe is back, for Dr. Black and the high concentration of such globally important work happening at the Bloomberg school of Public Health.
Congratulations class of 2016!
Yesterday was the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Centennial Class Convocation. The whole school gathered at the arena downtown to celebrate the students receiving their masters’ and doctoral degrees. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Centennial Convocation Speaker and the doctor who conducted her own lead testing on the water in Flint after noticing a trend in patients suffering symptoms of lead poisoning, spoke to students, inspiring them to continue on with their work in Public Health.
This year, the graduate break down by degree was:
· 117 PhD
· 23 are receiving DRPH
· 25 MHA
· 164 MHS
· 361 MPH
· 24 MPP
· 146 MSPH
· 38 SCM
· and 6 MSN/MPH
This smaller ceremony is where we have the opportunity to celebrate our graduates on all the work they’ve done since becoming a JHSPH student. Today is the University-wide Commencement Ceremony, where all of Johns Hopkins University will come together.
From all of us here in Student Affairs, we wish our graduates the best! Congratulations!
It’s time for a friendly reminder that June 1 is quickly approaching. Those of you applying to the following programs should make sure to get all your application materials into use in the next two weeks.
Masters’ Programs in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Masters’ Programs in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences
BA/MHS in the Department of Epidemiology (Johns Hopkins University students only)
Masters’ Programs in the Department of Mental Health
MHS Domestic Applicants in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology