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April 27, 2004

School Rededicates New Space and Perseveres in Mission

As he opened the April 23 rededication of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dean Alfred Sommer declared, “Public health is not a spectator sport.”

Indeed, everyone at the School was drawn into the event, either by attending the dignitaries' afternoon speeches or the morning installation of Dr. Robert Wm. Blum as the inaugural William H. Gates Sr. Professor and Chair of the Department of Population and Family Health Sciences, or by chatting with government leaders by the buffet table about health policy.

The day saw the opening of the new 200,000-square-foot wing of the School's main building, and a renewed commitment to improving global health, as Dr. Sommer led an assembly of luminaries, civic leaders, faculty, and friends of the School in rededicating the School to its core mission of protecting health and saving lives, millions at a time.

The School's new space had come about none too soon. As Dean Sommer noted, even 14 years ago, the laboratory space of E.V. McCollum—the man who discovered vitamin D at the School—had gone unchanged since 1926.

Public Health Practice—The Mature Choice

More than one speaker recognized that although public health is still a relatively new academic field, it requires a mature point of view: compassion for whole populations rather than for the individual. Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, praised those philanthropists like Bill Gates and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg who have seen their way to what Dr. Fineberg called “the mature choice of public health.”

William Gates, Sr.

William Gates, Sr.

Bill Gates Sr., father of the founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, witnessed just such maturity first-hand that morning when he visited with scholars at the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health. “I saw so much concern,” he said. “I'm happy as I can be to be a part of this. It's a privilege and an honor to be associated with this institution.”

In his keynote address, Donald S. Coffey, professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said that Mr. Gates Sr. and the Gates Foundation epitomize Florence Nightingale's famous credo: “I think one's feelings waste themselves in words, they ought all to be distilled into actions and into actions which bring results.”

Mayor Bloomberg challenged the audience to “make a difference and not just talk about it. I will never be a molecular biologist, but I can provide a little bit of help. We can each do our part and make a difference. 'Protecting Health, Saving Lives, Millions at a Time' is not just a slogan.”

Dean Sommer said that Mayor Bloomberg, the School's namesake, “practices what we preach. The discoveries of our faculty can inform policy but cannot make policy. Michael Bloomberg fights such problems as smoking and handguns with public policy.”

The School as Goodwill Ambassador

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

At a time when the international scene seems to be coming unhinged by terrorism and war, several speakers noted that the School has become a staunch ambassador of goodwill. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley praised the “weapons of mass salvation” being forged here in Baltimore, while U.S. Senator Paul S. Sarbanes said that “Johns Hopkins is fundamental to the strength of this city.” Senator Barbara Mikulski thanked the School for teaching the next generation of public health leaders around the world. “What a great diplomatic corps you've sent out,” she said. “The Bloomberg School is an incredible foreign policy vehicle.”

The Difficult Work of Public Health

Several speakers spoke of the “day-in, day-out, week-in, week-out” slog that is the backbone of public health work. William Gates Sr. noted that correcting a problem such as maternal mortality in the developing world “is not simple, straightforward stuff. It's a problem that won't yield to a drug or a vaccine. That's why it pleases us so much knowing the Gates Institute is working day by day to train people to go back to their native countries and build infrastructure, pass on their expertise, and battle the problems that haven't any silver bullet.”

The School's slogan, “Protecting Health, Saving Lives, Millions at a Time” may sound extravagant at first, Mr. Gates said, but it's not. “An effective vaccine for malaria or diarrhea? or a vaccine for HIV/AIDS? Protecting health, saving lives, millions at a time? You bet!”  --Rod Graham

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu .