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Julio Frenk, the incoming dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and former minister of health of Mexico, was honored last week with a Clinton Global Citizen Award for his innovative work in the field of global health.
The awards, in only their second year, are presented by the Clinton Global Initiative to “recognize remarkable individuals for outstanding leadership and innovation in solving global challenges.” In selecting Frenk, the organization cited his career dedicated to improving the health of millions, crediting Frenk with having “changed the way practitioners and policy makers across the world think about health.”
Tapped in 2000 to serve as health minister by Mexico’s newly-elected president, Vicente Fox, Frenk embarked on a campaign to provide care for the 50 million Mexicans who, at the time, were uninsured. His efforts led to the establishment of the “Seguro Popular” initiative, a public fund that paid for a number of health programs.
As part of the program, which provides coverage for a wide range of interventions, families pay a small premium determined by a scale inversely proportional to their income; families in the poorest fifth of the country’s demographic pay nothing.
Frenk’s soon-to-be colleagues at Harvard said that his newest honor comes as no surprise.
Outgoing Dean Barry R. Bloom said in an interview that “there are really two approaches that are ultimately important” in designing public health programs—accuracy and evidence.
To his credit, Bloom said, Frenk consistently consulted public health faculty at schools like Harvard as he proceeded with his public health reforms, making sure to back his policy decisions with scientific and empirical evidence.
Such conscientiousness to research, Bloom said, is “very rare in the business.”
Frenk will assume the deanship of the School of Public Health in January.
In addition to previously serving as the health minister in Mexico, Frenk has been a senior fellow of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Prior to that, he was considered a finalist for the director generalship of the World Health Organization, even winning the endorsement of the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet.
Bloom, who will step down as dean after a decade-long tenure, expressed nothing but confidence in his successor, noting that Frenk will add “a huge amount of real life experience” to the work of the school.
The Global Citizen Awards are presented as part of the Clinton Global Initiative’s Annual Meeting, where members gather to make their commitments for the upcoming year.
This year’s ceremony was held last Thursday, and Frenk’s fellow award recipients included Jennifer and Peter Buffett, chairs of the NoVo Foundation; Neville Isdell, chairman of the board of the Coca-Cola Company; and Xiaoyi Liao, founder of Beijing Global Village, China’s first green community.
The Clinton Global Initiative is the brainchild of former President Clinton, who said in an earlier address that he started the initiative in 2005 “to help turn good intentions into real actions and results.”
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