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People & Perspective

A Tale of Two Legends: Al Sommer and D.A. Henderson

This year two former deans of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—D.A. Henderson, MD, MPH ’60 and Alfred “Al” Sommer, MD, MHS ’73—were recognized for their epic achievements in the field of public health.

“The impact of their collective research, discoveries and achievements set a precedent for public health leaders around the world.”

Dean Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH ’87
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Henderson, who served as dean of the Bloomberg School from 1977 to 1990 and led the World Health Organization’s decade-long, global campaign to eradicate smallpox, was awarded the Prince Mahidol Award in Public Health. Established in 1992 to commemorate the 100th birthday of Prince Mahidol of Songka, revered in Thailand as “The Father of Modern Medicine and Public Health,” the award is given each year to an individual or institution for outstanding contribution in the field of public health.

Following his deanship, Henderson held many senior U.S. government positions, including associate director for life sciences in the Executive Office of the President, and is presently a University Distinguished Service Professor at Johns Hopkins University and resident scholar at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Health Security.

Two Legends

Sommer, who succeeded Henderson as dean and served until 2005, was the inaugural recipeint of the Welch-Rose Award for Distinguished Service to Academic Public Health, established by the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health to recognize individuals who have made a lasting impact on academic public health. The new annual award is named for William Henry Welch, the School’s founding director, and Wickliffe Rose, director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Division. Welch and Rose created the blueprint for academic public health.

Sommer arrived at the school after years of conducting pioneering vitamin A deficiency research in developing nations. His work led to the discovery that vitamin A deficiency dramatically increased childhood morbidity and mortality from infectious disease. Because of his work, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and their partners now annually provide more than half a billion high-dose vitamin A supplements to children around the world, saving hundreds of thousands of lives each year.

“Our school flourished during the 28 years of combined leadership under D.A. and Al,” says Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH ’87, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health since 2005. “The impact of their collective research, discoveries and achievements set a precedent for public health leaders around the world.”