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This is a remarkable time for public health – a time when we face enormous challenges, but also unprecedented opportunities to transform lives in the U.S. and globally.
Threats such as emerging infectious diseases and climate change have rapidly increased, as has the role of chronic diseases – including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes – as major causes of death and disability globally. Here in the United States, we rank last among high-income countries in preventable deaths. If the U.S. prevented as many deaths as the averages achieved in France, Japan and Australia, we could save 101,000 additional lives each year. Make no mistake – the task before us is formidable.
But we know what it takes to effect change, and we have made substantial progress in population health. In the last 150 years, public health interventions have played a central role in doubling life expectancy. Maternal mortality around the world dropped by almost 50 percent worldwide between 1990 and 2010. Vaccinations against deadly diseases save 2 to 3 million lives every year. Public health has been instrumental in regaining clean air and water. It has also markedly increased the safety of our food, workplaces, cars and roads. These are remarkable achievements, yet we can do so much more. Given the urgency of the challenges before us, we must.
At the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, we are seizing this historic moment. Our faculty members are world-renowned researchers committed to building new tools to transform what we know works, and translating that evidence into impact. They partner with communities, governments and many others to implement programs and formulate policies that bring about measurable and lasting change to both local and global communities. In low-income neighborhoods of East Los Angeles, a Fielding School-initiated community partnership is transforming the food environment; in Beijing, Fielding School faculty members are helping to apply lessons from Los Angeles to improve air quality; and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a long-running program to build surveillance of emerging infections continues to grow.
Fielding School faculty work closely with our students to ensure they gain both the skills and field experience necessary to have impact as public health professionals. Our students currently engage in active research, fieldwork and consultation in more than 70 countries throughout the world.
I am constantly energized by the intellect, dedication and passion of our student body, whose unparalleled and rich diversity reflects the populations public health serves. Our students come from every part of the United States and around the world to study at the Fielding School in Los Angeles, which is home to an estimated 10 million residents from more than 140 countries—a remarkable setting to address the public health challenges confronting our global community today.
And our graduates’ vision to lead and innovate continues to bring about measurable impact. Our alumni have served as Minister of Health for both Taiwan and Hungary; Director of the Thai-U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; founder of the first school of public health in Cambodia; Director of the China National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention; Under Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Executive Director of the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors; Director of the California Department of Health Services; and president and CEO of the Blue Shield of California Foundation, to name only a few. They also head non-governmental organizations, work to clean our environment, help lead health plans and hospitals, improve housing conditions, promote occupational safety, ensure reproductive health, vaccinate children in low-income countries, fight the spread of infectious diseases, and so much more.
It’s true that the global challenges to population health are great. Nonetheless, every day I spend as dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health leaves me filled with hope. Public health has always focused on ambitious goals. Knowing the immense talent and commitment that public health students bring to these objectives, I have no doubt that they will succeed at transforming the world in which we live!