Abhay T. Bang, MD, MPH ’84 and Rani Abhay Bang, MD, MPH ’84
Distinguished Alumni Award
Founders, Society for Education, Action and Research on Community Health (SEARCH)
Abhay and Rani Bang are married physicians who have significantly changed the landscape of child health and women’s reproductive health globally. In 1985, the Bangs founded the Society for Education, Action and Research on Community Health, an organization working to improve population health in Maharashtra State, India. For their work in galvanizing community empowerment for broader social development, the Bangs received the 2015 Times of India Social Impact Award.
Individually, Abhay and Rani have made tremendous impacts in their respective fields. Abhay and his colleagues implemented and published world-class research on practical and feasible approaches to reducing the mortality from the two leading causes of deaths among children younger than five years of age around the world: childhood pneumonia and neonatal conditions. Rani and her colleagues carried out the world’s first study documenting the large burden of gynecological diseases among poor, rural women, which helped drive the expansion of women’s reproductive health programs in developing countries. Their collective publications have demonstrated that community health workers, when properly trained and supported, can make major contributions to changing the public health landscape in under-resourced areas.
The Bangs’ research and advocacy for more effective women’s reproductive health and child health programs has fueled a renaissance of community-based primary health care. Through their outstanding leadership, applied research, technical support and advocacy, the Bangs have saved the lives of millions of women and children across the world.
Who were your most important mentors?
Carl Taylor and Bob Parker in the Department of International Health were our greatest mentors. Abraham Lillienfeld and Leon Gordis in Epidemiology were great teachers. Dean D. A. Henderson, with whom we often differed and debated, also left an impact.
What did you do to relax and have fun as a student, and what do you miss most about Baltimore?
Our three-year-old son Anand was the greatest relaxation and preoccupation outside the studies. (25 years later, Anand also came to Hopkins and studied for his MPH). Reading was another way of relaxing. The Welch Medical Library, with its mysterious old-fashioned building, had an aura and heaps of books.
How did your degree and time at JHSPH influence your career?
The MPH studies at Hopkins introduced us to the scientific foundations of public health, turning our fascination into a profession. We learned the research approach to solving problems. And finally, the MPH gave us a global vision.
What do you consider your most important accomplishments?
On our return to India, we turned our dream into a reality. We founded an institution, SEARCH, in the remote tribal district of Gadchiroli. In addition to providing health care to 100,000 local people, SEARCH conducted a series of epidemiologic studies on the prevalence of gynecological diseases in rural women, intervention field trials to reduce under-five mortality due to pneumonia, home-based neonatal care, studies and interventions on tobacco and alcohol, and studies on tribal health. Many of these studies shaped national or global thinking and policies. It was a great joyous ride of 30 years to realizing and learning public health by doing.
Ten years from now, where do you hope to be and what do you hope to be doing?
If we’re alive in 10 years, we will be still rooted in Gadchiroli. Several new challenges and horizons are inviting, including tribal health among 100 million tribal people in India (Abhay is Chairman of the Expert Committee on Tribal Health for the Government of India), non-communicable diseases caused by the three global terrorists—hypertension, tobacco and alcohol—need feasible and effective public health solutions, and finally, surgical care for the population without access to health care. These are the challenges on which we hope to make some dent.
What is your advice to people who are considering a career in public health?
Let public health become a passion, mission and profession. Second, public health is not merely computers, data and costs. More important are the values that shape our public health choices. And the last, connect with the communities. Public health without the people is body without the soul.
In your experience since leaving JHSPH, what do you think makes the school unique?
The public health spirit is alive at the school in the form of great professors and researchers, in the form of the international vibrant body of students, and finally in the form of the history of the school. What you receive at the school depends upon how hungry you are.