White Coat Notes

President Clinton at Harvard: Public health a model for world problem-solving

President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton were recognized Thursday by the Harvard School of Public Health for their work at the Clinton Foundatio. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)
President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton were recognized Thursday by the Harvard School of Public Health for their work at the Clinton Foundatio. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)Credit:

Progress made on global health problems in this millennium, in particular through partnerships forged by groups such as the Harvard School of Public Health and his family’s foundation, serves as a model for addressing the world’s wider troubles, President Clinton said during a visit to Boston Thursday.

Speaking during the public health school’s 100th anniversary celebration, Clinton pointed to Harvard’s work training health care leaders in Rwanda, at a fraction of the cost typically required to run such programs.

“The antidote to all the destruction in the world today and the only antidote, as nearly as I can determine, is consistent, disciplined devotion to creating networks of cooperation,” Clinton said. “We know the world is interdependent. We have known that at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall. ... That only means we cannot escape each other. Divorce is not an option, either from each other or from the planet we all inhabit.”

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Clinton was honored with the school’s Centennial Medal. The medals also were presented to Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group and former faculty member of the Harvard School of Public Health, and Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norway prime minister and director general of the World Health Organization.

In the century since the Harvard School of Public Health was created as the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers, it has been at the center of some of the most monumental public health advances in the United States and around the world.

Harvard researchers designed vaccination and screening methods that eradicated small pox and helped to prevent the spread of HIV. They have greatly advanced understanding of how diet, exercise, and lifestyle affect chronic disease. And, among many other advances, they created the designated driver campaign to keep people from driving while drunk.

The centennial celebration continues Friday with a one-day conference.

During his speech, Clinton spoke of Elif Yavuz , a 33-year-old who recently completed a doctoral program at the school, as a model public health worker. Yavuz was killed last month when Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab attacked a Nairobi shopping mall. Yavuz, who worked for the Clinton Health Access Initiative in Tanzania, was eight months pregnant and was in the city to deliver her baby. Her partner, Ross Langdon, also was killed.

Much of Al-Shabaab’s funding comes from the illegal sale of ivory from butchered elephants, Clinton said. He pointed to the initiative his wife, Hillary, and daughter, Chelsea, have launched through the foundation to stop the trade of ivory, working with African governments, non-governmental organizations, and others.

“The only way to fix it is through creative cooperation,” he said.

The school also honored Chelsea Clinton, with the Next Generation Award. She focuses primarily on health programs in her work as vice chairwoman of the Clinton Foundation.

“To make change you have to have some fundamental dissatisfaction, and I think young people are disproportionately qualified to do that,” Chelsea Clinton said. “We haven’t succumbed yet, in general, to cynicism or inertia or patience.”

She urged leaders at the school to help students find a platform for putting that dissatisfaction to work.

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