April 24, 2013 — In 1962, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) launched the Department of Demography and Human Ecology, the first department devoted to population sciences in any school of public health. Fifty years later the department, now known as Global Health and Population (GHP), has vastly expanded in size and scope, forging connections across the University and around the world. Researchers and students focus on diverse areas such as human rights and humanitarian relief, nutrition, infectious disease prevention, social and economic development, population and family health, health systems reform and health metrics, in countries from Bangladesh to Zambia to Mexico.
The last 50 years have witnessed dramatic changes in global health. Faculty members, students, and researchers in the department have helped shape the field of global health and many have gone on to have accomplished careers as ministers of health, international and national public health leaders, and scholars in academic institutions across the globe.
The GHP@50 symposium featured panel discussions on the past 50 years of global health, moderated by HSPH Dean Julio Frenk, with former HSPH Deans Barry R. Bloom and Howard Hiatt, and current Harvard Medical School Dean Jeffrey Flier. Other sessions focused on current challenges in the field, such as the unfinished and emerging population health agenda, identifying nutrition and global health priorities, strengthening health systems for effective coverage, and measuring and evaluating health development. These topics showcase multi-disciplinary perspectives, critical public health questions, and solutions. To conclude the day-long celebration, the evening commemorated previous chairs and highlighted the work of the department’s up-and-coming researchers.
“It’s an exciting time for the Department,” said Chair Wafaie Fawzi, Richard Saltonstall Professor of Population Sciences, and professor of nutrition, epidemiology, and global health. “We are working on leveraging our many strengths by bringing faculty together to work with researchers from across Harvard and around the world on various health issues and regional needs.”
Today, GHP is home to the Takemi Program on International Health, the Women & Health Initiative and School-wide initiatives such as Harvard China Initiative and Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. The department is also partnered with the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights and the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. These programs and partnerships allow GHP to reach across the globe with new ideas that have the potential to improve some of the most vulnerable populations worldwide.
Barbara Heil, assistant director of education programs, has worked with the Department since 1981, the year AIDS surged onto the public health agenda. The students keep the job fresh, she said, adding that over the years, the areas they choose to focus on may change but one thing remains constant — their passion for the work.
Fawzi commented, “The Department’s 50th anniversary is a significant milestone. It offers us the opportunity not only to celebrate the past but also to highlight today’s learning and consider how we can better improve global health across populations in the future. As a community of educators, researchers, practitioners, and students from around the world, GHP seeks to continue to work together to produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. “