Princeton in Africa Fellow
Oct 14 2008
Thank you so much for e-mailing me. I have now been in Freetown for over a month, and am fully integrated into my job at Africare.
October 12, 2008
By BILL FRIST, M.D.
As chairman of a global drive on children's health, I devote much of my energy these days to improving the survival odds for millions of children in the developing world.
It pains me to tell you that we have a lot of work to do to improve those odds for our own children here at home. And, counterintuitive though it may seem, I believe the place to start is with our education system.
A good education can help lay the foundation for a healthy life. A new report from a national commission describes large disparities in infant mortality in Tennessee and across the nation. The report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America, of which I'm a member, finds that babies born to mothers with less education are less likely to survive their first year of life than those born to more-educated mothers.
This gap in infant mortality by mother's education is larger in Tennessee than in any other state. Infant mortality rates are highest among babies born to mothers who did not graduate from high school — 11.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. For children born to mothers with a college degree or more, the rate is 4.9, a more than twofold difference.
Interestingly, this disparity is not merely a matter of extremes. Infants in the middle experienced shortfalls in survival, as well. For example, those whose mothers have some post-high school education have a death rate of 8.0 per 1,000 live births. In other words, we have a sliding scale of infant mortality that corresponds with maternal education. More years of education for mothers translate into better rates of survival for their children.
This pattern holds true across the nation. The commission has established a national benchmark of 3.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, the lowest infant-mortality rate seen in any state among babies born to mothers with 16 or more years of schooling. That's a rate we know is achievable — and the rate we must strive to achieve for all families.
But how to get there? First, we need to acknowledge that there is much more to good health than health care. In many ways, where and how people live, learn, work and play have more impact on their health than medical care.
As a doctor, I know firsthand that this is true. Poor health rarely occurs in a vacuum. It is shaped by many factors, including education and family income and the resources and opportunities they provide, like access to nutritious foods and adequate housing.
Take education, for example. Every child should have the opportunity to an excellent education. Poor education can lead to limited job options and lower income, which, in turn, can limit a family's chances to live in healthy homes and neighborhoods. That's a big part of why we have such a wide disparity in infant mortality rates in this country. If we addressed education and other social issues as part and parcel of health, we wouldn't have so much illness that required so much medical care, including an enormous amount of emergency care.
We spend more per capita on health care than any other country in the world, and yet our health is not nearly what it should be. Nor will it be, until we start focusing more on health than we do on illness. We need to pay more attention to what it means to be born healthy, grow up healthy and maintain good health as adults.
The fact that none of us is as healthy as we should be shows that all of us — employers, educators, public officials, religious leaders and others — need to come together and identify community-based solutions for improving health.
These solutions should be practical, affordable and grounded in evidence. They're out there, but we need to determine which ones will work best for our communities and put them into action. Providing opportunity is what we in the U.S. do best.
We need to give all children the opportunity to see their first birthday and develop into healthy adults. We need to mobilize our energy and our people here in Tennessee, and we need to do it now, before we write off the health of the next generation.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Physicians for Peace
Dir. Communications & Marketing
PHYSICIANS FOR PEACE HONORS WILLIAM FRIST, M.D. WITH CHARLES E. HORTON HUMANITARIAN AWARD
RECOGNIZES WORK TO ALEVIATE GLOBAL HEALTH CRISIS
Norfolk, Va. (10/9/2008) — Physicians for Peace, a Norfolk-based international non-profit organization focusing on medical education in the developing world, honored Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D. with the Charles E. Horton Humanitarian Award for Global Health during the organization’s Celebrate the Nations 2008 Gala on October 4 in Virginia Beach, VA. Sen. Frist, M.D. served as the keynote speaker for the event.
“To receive an award bearing Dr. Horton’s name is a tremendous honor,” Frist said. “Medicine can serve as a currency for peace throughout the world, bringing hope to those in despair and forging new alliances in even the most remote corners of the globe. Physicians for Peace is a shining example of that principle, and I’m grateful for their tremendous work.”
Frist’s work in the field of global health aligns with the Physicians for Peace mission to foster medical diplomacy. As Frist recently wrote in the Yale Law and Policy Review, “Health is a unique vehicle that crosses boundaries in times of war and distress, and in times of suffering and turmoil. Working to improve the health of our fellow man sends a message that speaks to our common humanity and serves as a vehicle for peacemakers.”
Frist, who devoted 20 years to practicing medicine as a cardiothoracic transplant surgeon before entering public service, represented the state of Tennessee in the United States Senate from 1995 to 2007, and served as Senate Majority Leader during the final four years of his tenure.
Since retiring from the Senate, Dr. Frist has worked with many charitable organizations, including Africare, Samaritan’s Purse, Save the Children and The ONE Campaign. At least once a year, he travels as a doctor to sub-Saharan Africa as part of World Medical Mission to do surgery and care for those stricken with disease. He is the Chair of the nonprofit Hope through Healing Hands, which promotes improved quality of life for communities around the world. The organization’s motto, “Using Medicine as a Currency for Peace,” echoes the mission of Physicians for Peace.
Speaking at the Physicians for Peace Gala, Sen. Frist expressed the core message of the evening. “Health and health care is the lifeblood of our future,” he noted. “It touches every life—our grandparents, our parents, and our children. It is intimate, and personal; it is built on trust; and it is fundamental to long-term economic growth – of a family or of a nation.”
The Charles E. Horton Humanitarian Award for Global Health is given in honor of the late Physicians for Peace founder, Charles E. Horton, MD. Horton, an internationally recognized humanitarian, founded Physicians for Peace in 1989 and served as its leader until his death in late 2006. Through Horton’s leadership, the organization has touched the lives of tens of thousands of patients and medical professionals in more than 50 countries around the world. The award was given last year to Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, noted expert on global development and Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
“Sen. Frist’s commitment to addressing the developing world’s health crisis is the embodiment of Dr. Horton’s vision and passions,” noted Physicians for Peace President and CEO Brig. Gen. Ron Sconyers (USAF, Ret.). “His passion and compassion is an inspiration to the Physicians for Peace family, and indeed for humanitarians the world over.”
ABOUT PHYSICIANS FOR PEACE
Physicians for Peace is an international private voluntary organization that mobilizes healthcare educators to assist developing nations with unmet medical needs and scarce resources. Through effective, hands-on medical education and training, clinical care and donated medical supplies, Physicians for Peace creates long-term, sustainable, replicable, and evidence-based projects to help partner nations build medical capability and capacity to help themselves. Volunteers for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization have conducted medical missions in more than 50 countries. More information is available at www.physiciansforpeace.org.
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