From the dean (Fall 2016)
December 1, 2016
Greetings to our readers —
Presidential campaigns spark national conversations about important issues, the role of government and the future of our democracy. The campaign that ended Nov. 8, 2016, certainly ignited conversations — and not all of them were civil or grounded in fact.
Nevertheless, democracy proved stronger than the intense feelings created by the campaign. In many conversations about the election, I was relieved that most people understood how important it is to exercise one’s right and responsibility to participate in the process, culminating in the act of voting.
After all these years, I still treasure the right to vote and always get to early voting the first or second day. In the last election, a lot of statements were made about important issues such as immigration, inequality and the cost of health care. Not enough of substance was said about these and other topics, such as responsible gun control. They all are public health issues, with critical policy implications. Now, it is time to move on, regardless of how we feel about the outcome, and work to achieve improvements in the public’s health.
Data from well-designed research are an essential foundation for good policy. This issue of Carolina Public Health features faculty and student researchers whose work yields data upon which policy makers rely when making decisions to improve health, save lives and protect the environment at local, state, national and global levels.
Providing data, evidence and proven programs that contribute to policy development is a way that schools of public health provide great return on investment. I am proud that faculty members in every Gillings School department have contributed to policy over the years — from the environment to insurance coverage, from the use of taxes to reduce consumption of sugary beverages to tobacco regulation, to neonatal screening and more.
There are no guarantees, but without research that meets the highest scientific standards, chances for good policy making are diminished. Developing policy is a long process requiring a lot of evidence — and persistence.
Research on neonatal screening for cystic fibrosis, begun nearly 20 years ago by Dr. Michael Kosorok, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of biostatistics, and colleagues resulted in a 2004 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that states begin screenings. North Carolina and Texas – the last states to implement screening – did not begin until 2009. Still, Kosorok considers himself fortunate to have seen policy change where many who do excellent research do not.
“Since you don’t have control over these things as a scientist, it’s important to keep doing the good research that is essential to making informed decisions,” he emphasized.
This “good research” is a common denominator in the successes of faculty members including Drs. Ralph Baric, Noel Brewer, Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, Barry Popkin and Ilene Speizer. Students featured in this issue have learned their lessons well and are on the way to being formidable contributors to good health policy. All have compelling and inspiring stories in this issue, marked by their curiosity, collaborations, perseverance and dedication to conducting rigorous high-quality research as free from bias as can be designed.
When it comes to having an impact upon policy, the stakes are high. In just these few examples, success ultimately means significant reductions of deaths due to smoking and obesity, fewer illnesses due to contaminated well-water and unprotected sex, fewer pregnancies affected adversely by the Zika virus, and safer hospitals for newborns and other patients.
The dedication of our faculty, students, alumni and staff in tackling complex problems and the inequities that often underlie them – and the commitment of those who support their research – should give us hope for the future of our nation and world, far beyond the next four years.
Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit sph.unc.edu/cph.