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Swashbuckling Tales of Public Health

In a new book, Alfred Sommer shares defining career moments.


10 Lessons In Public Health book10 Lessons in Public Health: Inspiration for Tomorrow’s Leaders often reads more like an adventure novel than a collection of public health lessons learned. In this, his seventh book, Dean Emeritus Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS ’73, chronicles his journey through epidemics, a cyclone and even a civil war through compelling and inspiring stories that at times are harrowing and others, humorous.

From Lesson 1 (Go Where the Problems Are) to Lesson 10 (Take the Long View), Sommer's philosophy is the backbone of this public health memoir: ". . . data mattered mightily," he writes in the introduction, "but persistence, powers of persuasion and luck mattered nearly as much.”

Sommer transports readers to 1970 East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), where a cyclone killed more than 200,000 in coastal villages along the Bay of Bengal. In disaster-relief mode, he organized and distributed supplies and food and conducted an epidemiological survey to assess long-term needs for reconstruction and development. He also recounts an equipment failure during retinal surgery in Indonesia that he addressed by stopping the procedure and sending an assistant sprinting to purchase a multi-plug electrical adapter.

At a career crossroads in 1976, Sommer writes of choosing to address health problems in the developing world over a traditional academic path. The decision ultimately led to his groundbreaking Indonesia-based research that has saved millions of children’s lives and eyesight through vitamin A supplementation.

Despite the gravity of his lifelong mission, Sommer clearly tells his story with a smile: “Life as a public health professional,” he attests “is fun.”

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Read about Alfred Sommer's vitamin A research.