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October 3, 2013

Sommer Named a “Foreign Friend” by Government of Bangladesh


The government of Bangladesh has named Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS, dean emeritus of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a “Foreign Friend” of Bangladesh for his contributions during the nation’s Liberation War. Sommer is one of 60 individuals and organizations recognized by the Bangladesh National Committee for their participation in or contribution to the process of independence. The accolades were presented by Bangladeshi President  Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in two categories—“Bangladesh Liberation War Honour” and “Friends of Liberation War Honour”—during an official ceremony on October 1. Alain B. Labrique, PhD, MHS, MS, assistant professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health and director of the Johns Hopkins University Global mHealth Initiative accepted the award on Sommer’s behalf.

The Bangladesh Liberation War was a South Asian war of independence fought in 1971. The nine month war established the independence of Bangladesh, pitting East Pakistan and India against West Pakistan. Sommer, then a scientist with the Cholera Research Lab, assisted Bangladeshis by hiding prominent academics and politicians in his Dhaka residence, as well as driving them to the rural countryside, to escape torture and possible death. During his evacuation from the country, Sommer smuggled a list of murdered academics and politicians which he provided to Abu Sayeed Chowdhury and Bangladeshi leadership in London. Today Sommer is credited with being an advocate for the support of refugees during the war and returning to Bangladesh to initiate control of the smallpox epidemic which followed. In addition, Sommer is credited with organizing the post-independence relief and rehabilitation surveys for the United Nations Relief Operations, Dacca.

Sommer, who is also a professor of epidemiology, international health and ophthalmology at the Bloomberg School and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, has authored more than 300 scientific publications and five books. Based on his research and recommendations, vitamin A supplementation has been judged as one of the most cost effective medical interventions of all time and continues to be implemented in countries across the globe. He is the recipient of numerous honors including the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award and the Spirit of Helen Keller Award, and is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.

Media contact for Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Natalie Wood-Wright at 410-614-6029 or