And I have a very simple message today to these future leaders, these
graduates. Thank you. Thank you from all of us.
We thank you because you are about to embark on one of the most
challenging battles for our future – our health. And we need you more
We are threatened by an ever-growing number of diseases, from A to Z,
that are on a startling rise. Let me give you a snapshot. Let’s just
start with A –
• Asthma -- Childhood rates have doubled in the past two
decades. African American children are five times more likely to die
from asthma than white American children
• Autism -- Alzheimer’s, all on the rise.
• Anthrax -- a bioterrorism threat.
• Avian influenza pandemic -- the White House said this
week that up to two million American’s could die if it were to hit.
• AIDS -- the crisis is far from over with 15,000 dying a
year in the US and an even more mind numbing toll in Africa.
• Alcohol -- the leading risk factor in the top causes of
death among youth
• Antibiotic resistance -- more of our vital drugs losing
efficacy so we have longer-lasting illnesses; extended hospital
stays and possible death with basic infections.
That’s just the A’s. The list goes on and the consequences are
unnecessary illness and suffering for millions.
In the US alone, more than 90 million people live with chronic
diseases, which account for seven out of ten deaths in this country.
Amazingly, the majority of these diseases are preventable, yet this
nation continues to accept that people will inevitably become sick.
Rather than concentrating primarily on treatment, we need to work
equally hard to prevent illnesses in the first place, particularly for
those most at risk.
What does this mean? Let me give this some real life perspective and
tell you about a family that lives about 2 hours from Columbia who I’ve
worked with as extraordinary public health advocates.
Several years ago,
Jill and Jeff McElheney’s youngest son was diagnosed with leukemia—the
leading cause of childhood cancer. Twenty years ago, that would have
been a death sentence with less than 20 per cent of the children surviving.
Thanks to improved treatments, the good news today is that approximately
80 per cent make it and Jarret is one of them.
What’s troubling? In the recent decades, pediatric leukemia has been
increasing approximately 1 per cent a year. Treatments are better, but more kids
than ever are getting this debilitating disease.
The McElhanys asked why
he got sick and what could they do to keep other children safe. They
challenged political leaders to be part of the solution. Their actions
lead to discovering that their well contained a toxic brew of chemicals.
Now these are now shut down for the entire neighborhood.
It’s reminiscent of the early public health days of the 1800’s when
Dr. John Snow in London suspected that a certain water well may be
linked to hundreds dying from cholera. What did an early public health
hero do? He called for political action but he also took off the pump
handle. Guess what – cholera rates went down.
And guess what, no more children in Jarret’s neighborhood have been
diagnosed with cancer since the wells were closed.
There are more and more communities with these stories who are ready
to work with public health to make prevention more possible, more real.
And who will help lead that charge? Right here. Here are our future
leaders who will be asking the questions, leading the investigations,
making policies and taking actions so that we don’t have to just accept
rising rates of cancer, communication disorders, childhood obesity.
me a favor. Show me your hand if you are graduating in epidemiology and
biostatistics? Here are our future health detectives who will be
investigating why those rates are going up.
Show me the hands of our
environmental health graduates? Here are the scientists testing and
analyzing for the preventable causes of illness.
Who is from Exercise
science and physical therapy? You will be the heart of direct action.
For example, here lies part of the solution to the obesity epidemic,
which is one of our greatest public health crisis because of its link to
35 deadly diseases, from diabetes to cancer.
And how do you think we get
the public to make those healthy changes – Let’s see the hands of the
Health Promotion Education and Behavior graduates. They have some of the
And who will be making the policies to create system wide
change – such as healthy school lunches and better insurance coverage –
lets see the health policy and management graduates.
scientists, where are you? They are the first to tell you that early
intervention is key. For instance, who will be leading the fight for
South Carolina to catch up with 27 other states and make newborn hearing
screening universally required by law?
This, ladies and gentleman,
members of the faculty, here are the solutionmakers. This is why I have
hope that we will have a healthier society.
Now, make no mistake, this is not an easy task, but public health has
done it before. Back in the 1800s, mothers were told to have twice as
many children as wanted because half would succumb to infectious
diseases or injuries. Americans live 25 years longer due to disease
prevention advances such as clean drinking water and better nutrition
and vaccines. These tremendous accomplishments turned what previously
seemed like unconquerable acts of nature into preventable illnesses.
It was possible by determined public health leaders and a public that
rallied to the cause. And by joining forces, we can do it again for the new sets of threats
we face today. We have those ingredients in this room.
And let me acknowledge a key part of today’s success. We all know
that no one can graduate from the rigors of the Arnold School of Public
Health without the support of parents, family, faculty, spouses,
partners, friends or children.
To all of you who have been part of our
graduates' support system, you have our deepest appreciation. You should
be proud of your graduates. But now I ask two more things of you. First,
become a public health champion – let your neighbors, your friends, your
elected officials know that disease prevention is possible and needs to
Unfortunately, over the past several decades, public health programs
at all levels of government have been allowed to decay and the
consequences could be disastrous. We have already seen the warning
signs: in the difficulty responding to the health challenges of
Hurricane Katrina or the increasing health disparities where the sickest
are typically the poorest. With the will, we can create healthier communities.
And second, it’s back to my simple message. Since you all showed me
how to properly say good morning, can I ask you to join me with a New
Jersey saying? When one of these graduates, one of our heroes comes up
to thank you for your support over these years of schooling, what do you
Well, in NJ we would say, “No, thank YOU.” Because we all need and
honor what the graduates on 2006 will be doing for all of us. It’s your
common sense of purpose– that together, we can make disease prevention a
reality, saving millions of lives, millions of dollars. “No, thank YOU”
class of 2006. With all our heart.
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