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Drawing attention to the idea of health security during an era of pandemics, Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health Julio Frenk yesterday called for “reform in the midst of a storm.”
In a public address at the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum, Frenk, an international leader in public health, focused on the need for change due to the interdependent nature of global health.
“The world is becoming a single neighborhood,” he said. “Globally, the most complex challenge will be to secure access to the H1N1 vaccine for all in need throughout the world. More damaging than the pandemic itself could be a situation where the wealthy countries have a sufficient supply of the vaccine, while the rest of the world suffers in impotence and resentment.”
Health remains one of the “truly universal aspirations” in a turbulent world, Frenk added.
“It’s really a way of saying it’s time for a novel way of engaging the new political challenges with new political solutions,” said Debbie P. Lin ’11, a history of science concentrator who attended the event. Lin said she was most impacted by Frenk’s focus on global interdependence.
According to Frenk, through health security—epidemiological security, health-care security, and financial security—nations could invest in protection from bankruptcy and debt. This would improve safety and quality care while promoting prevention and wellness.
“History teaches us that many of the most enlightened social protection measures have been enacted at times of economic or political crises,” Frenk said. “If well crafted, health reform can be a key ingredient in economic recovery.”
Frenk, who is a former minister of health of Mexico, referred to the 1995 financial meltdown in Mexico as an example of how change could occur in a time of crisis.
Conditional cash transfers, a universal health system, and a new public health agency were effectively created to protect against major health risks.
Many audience members supported Frenk’s remarks on the need for global health reform.
“If you keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results, that’s called insanity,” said Brian “Ari” Cole, a Kennedy School alumnus. “We gotta change our methods! We have to mix it up!”
“It really boils down to this: all life is interrelated,” Frenk said Frenk, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He then concluded, “Let us continue to weave together the destiny of better health for every person in this country and in every corner of our interrelated world. Our generation has no task more urgent or important than to achieve comprehensive health security for all.”
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