During visit to China, Dean Julio Frenk aims to strengthen HSPH collaborations

HSPH Dean Julio Frenk (fifth from left) poses with health sector leaders at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, known for its public health philanthropy. Frenk was hosted by Dr. Donald Li, president of the World Organization of Family Doctors-Asia Pacific Region (fourth from left).

February 15, 2013 — In a week-long January 2013 trip to China, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) Dean Julio Frenk brought an important message about public health: that it’s essential to continued human progress.

Frenk’s trip, which took him to Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong, was aimed at strengthening HSPH’s existing ties in China, connecting with health sector leaders, and meeting with some 150 alumni and other supporters of the School.

In Hong Kong, Frenk gave a speech to members of the Asia Society, a leading nongovernmental organization that promotes understanding and partnerships among peoples, leaders, and institutions of the Asia-Pacific region and the United States. Frenk spoke of “the profoundly important connection” between public health and economic growth, and of ways that HSPH can work with the government, organizations, businesses, and individuals to help promote both public health and prosperity in China.

“For decades, the connection between health and economic growth was viewed as a simple, unidirectional relationship: Economic growth promotes health through better living conditions, including investments in sanitary infrastructure and housing, improved nutrition, and increased access to education,” Frenk told the audience. “As we know now, this is far from the whole story. More and more, research is demonstrating that good health is not only a consequence but also a condition for sustained and sustainable economic growth.”

China-HSPH collaborations

In his speech to the Asia Society and in other talks and meetings, Frenk also highlighted HSPH’s decades-long collaborative efforts in Hong Kong and mainland China. One prominent example is the work of William Hsiao, K.T. Li Professor of Economics at HSPH, who researched and developed a low-cost insurance system that now covers more than 90% of the 800 million people living in rural China. Others include the School’s China Initiative, a collaboration among Harvard, China’s Ministry of Health, the Central Party School, and Tsinghua University, which focuses on public health research and leadership education and is directed by Yuanli Liu, senior lecturer on international health in the Department of Global Health and Population; and HSPH’s partnership with Tsinghua University on the Healthy Beijing Initiative, which aims to develop China’s first-ever 10-year strategic plan for health sector development.

Also in Hong Kong, Frenk signed a renewed memorandum of understanding with the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health, which is led by HSPH alumnus Gabriel Leung, MPH ’99, PDS ’05. The two schools have worked together since the 1990s on public health research pertinent to China and the Asia-Pacific region. Frenk also met with another prominent HSPH alumna—Sophia Chan, MPH ’07, Undersecretary for Food and Health in Hong Kong.

Celebrating Rockefeller Foundation’s 100th

In Beijing, Frenk participated in the Rockefeller Foundation Global Health Summit, which focused on addressing future health challenges. The event also marked the 100th anniversary of the Rockefeller Foundation and the organization’s founding of Peking Union Medical College in 1917. (The Foundation also played a key role in HSPH’s founding a century ago). At the event, Frenk was a panelist for a discussion titled “Dreaming the Future of Health.”

— Karen Feldscher

photo courtesy David Lie