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Dean's Message, Autumn/Winter 2016


AT A TIME WHEN ACCESS TO MEDICAL CARE MAY BE THREATENED, can we afford to invest human capital in addressing the social conditions that influence health? The answer is that we can’t afford not to. Just as important as whether people get care when they’re sick is preventing them from becoming sick or injured in the first place. The current rise in discrimination and threats to the environment present profound risks to health, just as any future reductions in access to medical care would. Transforming health in the U.S. and around the world requires not only ensuring the availability of care to all who need it, but also addressing the emerging and longstanding societal factors so important to determining who has a chance to lead a healthy life. That means tackling poverty, ensuring that quality education is universally affordable and accessible, eliminating discrimination, and promoting equal opportunity for all.

While the challenges are formidable, the greatest threats to health are not unsolvable. In the last 25 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty around the world has been cut in half, the number of primary school-age children not attending school has decreased by more than 40 million, and the number of children under age 5 who die each year has dropped by nearly 7 million.

At its best, public health works with partners in a wide range of fields to understand the obstacles to improved living conditions and implement solutions that advance the health and well-being of all communities by addressing social and environmental determinants of health. As the examples featured in this issue attest, our Fielding School faculty, students, and alumni are helping to lead the charge as we turn toward sustainable investments that are transforming health and changing lives. In a tumultuous and too often divisive environment both in the United States and globally, it is more important than ever before that we strengthen our resolve to ensure that everyone has equal rights and an equal opportunity to thrive regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, disability, country of origin, citizenship, or documentation status.


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Jody Heymann, MD, PhD