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December 30, 2004

A Message from the Dean About the Tsunami Disaster

Dear Colleagues,

We all have been shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation throughout South Asia caused by the December 26 tsunamis. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the millions whose lives will be affected for years to come.

We know that the faculty, alumni and students of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who are currently in these countries are doing their utmost to aid the survivors, prevent outbreaks of malaria, meningitis, dengue fever and diarrheal diseases, and help provide long-term solutions to the many challenges to be faced in the coming months. The Bloomberg School’s Center for Refugee and Disaster Response already has personnel working on relief efforts in Indonesia, is assembling a team of emergency physicians and nurses to work with the International Rescue Committee, is assisting CARE Indonesia and Project HOPE in their planning and response efforts, and is coordinating with other relief agencies on the ground to explore additional means of assistance. In the past, the School has trained more than 170 public health workers from South Asia in disaster management courses. One such course was completed just months ago.

As an institution dedicated to global health, the Bloomberg School has many personal and professional ties to the nations struck by this tragedy. I've personally spent much of my public health career living and working in areas affected by the tsunamis. In 1971, I was directly involved in the earliest assistance in Bangladesh following a cyclone and tidal bore that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. And our earliest vitamin A trials were conducted in Aceh, Indonesia. In January 2003, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand hosted our Health Advisory Board as we visited collaborative research activities there. I have been in touch via email with Princess Sirindhorn, a close friend of the School and member of the School’s International Honorary Committee. She is devastated by the loss of life of her countrymen—she herself lost a nephew in the disaster. As head of the Thai Red Cross, she is working around the clock to help spearhead relief activities there.

Individually, each of us can help by contributing to the relief organizations that are providing immediate assistance. As I learned firsthand 30 years ago in Bangladesh, the greatest immediate need was water, food and shelter. Following that was a huge need for technical advice and assistance.

We may be powerless to prevent earthquakes and tsunamis, but public health experts trained at the School and elsewhere can guide response efforts to prevent disease outbreaks, preserve the health of survivors and efficiently organize resources and relief operations. In this time of terrible grief, we must focus on these enormous tasks.

Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health