October 15, 2017


Dear readers —

Dean Barbara K. Rimer (Photo by Brian Strickland)

Dean Barbara K. Rimer (Photo by Brian Strickland)

Whatever one’s political views, the months since the 2016 presidential election have been challenging and frenetic. For many in public health, threats to continuation of the Affordable Care Act, which Dr. Jon Oberlander addresses in this issue, are especially difficult to bear. We’ve waited too long to assure that people in this country would not have to fear for their lives and financial futures when faced with ill health.

We’ve seen natural disasters, sometimes exacerbated by humans, around the world at a distressing level of frequency, intensity and devastation. We’ve grappled with other events – locally, including on our campus, and around the world.

I’m proud that most people in the Gillings School and larger public health community stand up for equity, fairness and health care as a right. (I’ve written about many contemporary issues, including ones related to social justice, in my blog, mondaymorning.web.unc.edu.) People in public health are resilient, and collectively, we seize opportunities where we can find them and make them. We are neither daunted nor immobilized.

For this issue of Carolina Public Health, we asked members of our faculty, staff, alumni and boards to be issue writers, responding to critical questions about the future of public health.

Through their words, we aim to bring thoughtful perspective to some of the great challenges facing us locally and globally.

To organize the various pieces in this issue, we assigned each to one of our strategic theme areas, recognizing that a person’s work often cuts across categories. These themes include “Deliver Proven Solutions Faster (Implementation Science),” “Healthy People, Healthy Planet,” “Promote Health, Prevent Disease and Improve Care for All” and “Harness Big Data for Health and Well-being.”

Leadership is more important than ever before, and we asked some of our School’s leaders to share lessons in and advice from their experiences. (We asked seven of our academic unit leaders three questions about leadership; Dr. Michael Kosorok, chair of biostatistics, addresses another set of questions regarding big data. Two others – faculty member Dr. Claudia Fernandez and alumna Dr. Amy Lanksy – discuss unique leadership issues.) We invited others to address specific threats, such as those to air and water quality, and to discuss humanitarian crises, infectious diseases and opioid addiction. We also focus on big drivers of health, such as obesity. There are many other topics, and I hope they will resonate with you.

We took liberties in assigning people to categories.

Those who wrote on topics in our category “Delivering Proven Solutions” reflect our commitment to deliver proven interventions to the people who will benefit, so we can accelerate major improvements in health.

In what we refer to as implementation science, we aim to start with evidence-based interventions and then speed up the process – so that we beat the clock on the 17 years it usually takes to get proven interventions to people across a range of health, education and medical areas. Today, as always, change is too slow, and people die waiting.

We included Dr. Steve Zeisel here, as his groundbreaking work on the nutrient choline led to policy changes that set standards for choline requirements, especially for pregnant women. His research findings were scaled up and became part of Federal Drug Administration and other food policies. That’s impact on a scale of millions.

Similarly, through his persistent dedication to putting guidelines into practice, Dr. Herbert Peterson is saving the lives of women and children around the world. By working at the country level to institute taxes on sugary products, Drs. Barry Popkin and Shu Wen Ng are contributing to countries’ bottom lines and improving health.

At the Gillings School, we are committed to build the evidence base in important areas through basic and applied research and to develop interventions, including programs and policies, which are culturally appropriate, effective, affordable and scalable. In this way, whether we are in local or global settings, what we develop, test and deploy will be useful and usable across North Carolina and around the world.

Many of our readers share this aspiration, and our remarkable students can’t wait to improve the world. Indeed, many already have begun to do so!

Thank you for your innovation, generosity, work, collaboration and friendship. Thanks to so many of you for giving of your wisdom and time to improve our school and the health of the public. You make a difference for the Gillings School and the public’s health, and we appreciate you!

Warm regards,

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Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH


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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.