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International Health

From the Chair 
Robert Black, MD, MPH

As our 50th anniversary year comes to a close, it is clear that our department has much to celebrate and much to look forward to in coming years. An emphasis on primary health care and community empowerment at our founding is still relevant today. The exceptional work of many faculty and students on interventions to address childhood infectious diseases and undernutrition has undoubtedly contributed to the declines in child mortality in low- and middle-income countries in recent decades. We continue to conduct research and provide program support to address the dual epidemics of HIV/AIDS and TB. And we have developed internationally recognized faculty and student teams to evaluate current maternal and child health programs and health systems. However, at the same time the Department is evolving to address emerging and future global problems.  

Mortality and disability from injury is a worldwide problem of growing importance and our injury research unit is recognized as a global leader—named a WHO Collaborating Center in an event here early in 2011.

Another global problem of increasing prevalence, even in developing countries, is childhood obesity. Building on a base of work in our Program for Human Nutrition on this problem, faculty from five schools of the University collaborated to develop a center of excellence to conduct research and training. With a large grant from NIH and additional institutional funds, we have established the Johns Hopkins Global Center for Childhood Obesity, led by Associate Professor Youfa Wang.

The last 50 years have seen incredible advances in technology. Vaccines to prevent childhood infections are playing an increasing role in disease control and our department is recognized as a leader in areas ranging from vaccine development and evaluation to programs, financing and policy. This leadership was recently recognized by our being named a WHO/PAHO Collaborating Centre for Vaccine Epidemiology and Evaluation.

Information technologies (IT) have progressed to a point unimaginable 50 years ago. The rapid increase in mobile phone service—even in remote areas of Africa—has opened new opportunities for health applications, referred to as mHealth. With leadership from Assistant Professor Alain Labrique and other faculty, the University has recently launched the Global mHealth Initiative, involving over 20 faculty and more than 100 students. At the recent mHealth Summit our leadership in this area resulted in a number of offers of collaboration with IT companies and non-profit organizations.

Our department will continue to grow and adapt to address the most important global problems in partnerships that span the globe. As Melinda Gates put it when she spoke at our 50th anniversary event in September:

It’s these partnerships...with philanthropies, with other NGOs, with governments, to take this cutting-edge research and disseminate it and make it standard practice in the developing world. That, to me, is the legacy of this Department over the last 50 years. That’s what you’ve done, and I can’t imagine, looking forward, how more excited I could be to see what comes next.