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YSPH Alumni Return for Centennial Reunion

October 27, 2015
by Denise Meyer

“I’ve never abandoned the public health toolkit,” Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina, told dozens of his fellow Yale public health alumni.

In his keynote address Saturday (October 24) at the school’s centennial Alumni Day, Pastides, MPH ‘77, PhD ’80, said that his training remains vital, even though he now works in higher education administration.

Just earlier this month, in the aftermath of South Carolina’s historic flooding, Pastides became the university’s ‘chief public health officer,’ leading the campus through mass relocation of students while also addressing lack of potable water and sanitation disruption for those who remained on campus.

“If I didn’t know what to do, I knew where to look for help which is part of the public health toolkit,” he said.

The daylong event drew well over 100 school alumni for a panel discussion on the future of public health—“the “Public Health Toolkit for the Next Century”—as well a luncheon, awards, campus tours and a reception at the home of Yale’s president.

Pastides said he is continually grateful for the public health perspective that Yale gave him, a perspective that is more important than ever as support of public funding of education has dropped to just 9 percent of the university’s budget since the recession of 2008. The cuts are felt disproportionately by families with low and middle incomes, as is the case with access to health care.

Echoing Pastides’ feeling that the need for public health has never been greater, Unni Karunakara, MPH ’95, Senior Fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and former international president of Doctors Without Borders, kicked off a panel discussion with five School of Public Health faculty on the future of public health by outlining several pressing challenges around the world: New epidemics and pandemics; the need for new models of care and robust health systems worldwide; environmental health and climate change; and poverty and conflict.

Elizabeth Bradley, PhD ’96, the Brady-Johnson Professor of Public Health and director of the Global Health Leadership Institute, presented a case study of the Door to Balloon (D2B) campaign that began in 2006. The goal was to reduce time to care for cardiac patients to 90 minutes after their arrival in emergency departments. After identifying six commonsense strategies, such as reducing the number of phone calls and staffing a full-time cardiologist in the ER, the D2B Alliance coordinated its rollout with the announcement of new guidelines for hospitals from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Today, 95 percent of patients receive treatment within 90 minutes.

To make such improvements, health providers need to use every methodology in their toolkit and work within their communities to design appropriate interventions. Change, Bradley said, also takes a long time.

Andrew DeWan, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, discussed how his work in genetic epidemiology is looking for inherited causes of diseases. This emerging field has the potential to predict disease, design personalized treatments and personalized prevention.

With disease modeling, Alison Galvani, PhD, the Burnett and Stender Families Professor of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, described how public health interventions and policy can be improved worldwide. Her group, the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis (CIDMA), has worked with the United Kingdom to predict the cost effectiveness of new rotavirus vaccination of children, as well as with the Tanzanian government to develop a cost-effective strategy to prevent rabies transmission through canine vaccination. More recently, CIDMA assisted the Liberian government in developing an effective Ebola surveillance strategy and intervention to curtail the epidemic.

Jeffrey Townsend, PhD, associate professor of biostatistics and ecology and evolutionary biology, brings the perspective of evolutionary biology and big data to public health. From antibiotic resistance to Ebola and cancer, “a lot of evolution is happening now,” he said. Townsend’s work with cancer combines data to determine which cancer drivers play a role in the evolution of cancer in a patient. Oncologists are beginning to prescribe individualized chemotherapy protocols aimed at the mutations of the cancer cells.

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Melinda Pettigrew, PhD, updated alumni on educational objectives, opportunities and challenges facing the school as it educates the next generation of public health professionals, as well as its new programs, academic initiatives and international educational partnerships.

At the awards luncheon, a Proclamation of the City of New Haven was read by New Haven’s Director of Health, Byron Kennedy, MPH ’01, MD ’04, PhD ‘04. The proclamation, signed by Mayor Toni Harp, recognizes the school’s local, national and international accomplishments over the last 100 years.

The Association of Yale Alumni in Public Health’s (AYAPH) Award for Excellence, the group’s highest award, was given to Dean Paul Cleary for tremendous accomplishments during his tenure as dean. In accepting the award, Cleary said, “From the depth of my heart I thank you for what you do for public health and the nation.”

In addition, over 100 faculty and alumni were inducted into the AYAPH Winslow Centennial Honor Roll for Excellence and Service.

The capacity crowd concluded its centennial reunion at a reception hosted by Yale President Peter Salovey and his wife, Marta Moret, ’ MPH ’84, at their home in New Haven.

Established in 1915 by C.-E.A. Winslow, the Yale School of Public Health has over 5,200 living alumni in 70 countries worldwide.

Submitted by Denise Meyer on October 27, 2015