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Archbishop Tutu Attends

Professor Chris Beyrer presented Archbishop Desmond Tutu with a special gift after the dedication ceremony.

Professor Chris Beyrer presented Archbishop Desmond Tutu with a special gift after the dedication ceremony.

Chris Beyrer named the Inaugural Desmond M. Tutu Professor in Public Health and Human Rights

Chris Beyrer, MD, MPH ’91, was installed to the inaugural Desmond M. Tutu Professorship in Public Health and Human Rights during an April 8 ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa.

Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu attended the Bloomberg School of Public Health event with his wife Leah and daughter Mpho Tutu von Furth, executive director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation. Dean Michael Klag, MD, MPH ‘87, accepted the endowed award on behalf of Johns Hopkins University.

As a professor in the Bloomberg School’s departments of Epidemiology, International Health, and Health, Behavior and Society, Beyrer has worked for more than two decades to conduct collaborative research and training programs in HIV/AIDS and other infectious disease epidemiology, prevention research and vaccine preparedness. In his fight to ensure that the fundamental rights to health and well-being for all persons around the world are maintained, Beyrer founded the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Bloomberg School in 2004. There, he and colleagues measure the impact of human rights violations with population-based methods, and minimize their consequences with innovative public health approaches.

Beyrer and Archbishop Tutu have collaborated since 2008 to address human rights and public health crises around the world, including the collapse of the economy and health care system in Zimbabwe, the persecution of political prisoners like Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma and the ongoing struggles of LGBT individuals throughout Africa and Asia.

“Thank you for honoring our work by inaugurating a professorship in my name,” Archbishop told ceremony attendees. “Thank you for acknowledging the indelible links between human rights and public health [and] for recognizing the exceptionally capable and compassionate Chris Beyrer as the first bearer of this professorship. I am so very proud to be associated with him.”

Beyrer described his naming as the inaugural Desmond Tutu Professor in Public Health and Human Rights “one of the signal honors” of his life and work. “It feels like both a humbling responsibility and an invigorating charge,” he said, “as Archbishop Tutu stands for such unwavering commitment to human rights and social justice—but also as such an inspiring mentor.”

The endowed professorship, Beyrer said, confers resources that allow him and his colleagues to uphold the Center for Public Health and Human Rights’s focus on research, teaching and advocacy.

“. . . We can do work where others will not go,” he said, “and in contexts where it’s very difficult to begin to engage.

“It’s my most sincere hope that the professorship will allow for us to expand vital teaching and mentoring areas—that’s the future for this work—and how wonderful will it be for junior colleagues to say they’ve been a Tutu scholar?”

Archbishop Tutu recounted a story of overcoming tuberculosis more than 70 years ago. “The loving care that I received made a deep impression on me,” he said, “and although I had fallen behind with my studies, I resolved to become a doctor.”

He applied to medical school, and was accepted, but was unable to secure a bursary, so he initially pursued a career as a teacher instead. Later he went on to study theology and join the ranks of the clergy, rising to become the Archbishop of Cape Town.

“The point of this story,” he said, “is that although I have been blessed to lead a wonderfully fulfilling life, to travel widely, meet fantastic people, there has always been a part of me that would have preferred to be a real medical doctor.”

Given his passions for health care and human rights, he said the Bloomberg School’s establishment of this endowed professorship is especially meaningful: “You are, as it were, helping an old man assuage a childhood itch.”

Dean Klag said, “Of all the gifts a University can receive, few make a more profound or lasting difference than the gift of an endowed professorship. We are proud that the Johns Hopkins University now boasts more than 400 named professorships, and this will be the 30th such professorship at the Bloomberg School.”

The timing of this event—during the School’s 100th anniversary year—was particularly fitting, Dean Klag observed: “I cannot think of a better way to celebrate our Centennial.”

—Nick Moran

Learn More About the Center for Public Health and Human Rights.