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5 Important Figures in Public Health You Should Know About

Public health impacts all of us in big and small ways. Here are 5 people who are impacting public health, and so all of our lives. Read more below.
BY Vindhya Vatsyayan |   17-12-2015

“Public health” is a broad term comprising professionals from diverse backgrounds - epidemiologists, mental health specialists, health economists, and community health workers, to name a few.  All these people are working towards a common goal of ensuring healthy lives, and promoting the well-being for all. The breakthroughs in public health have a powerful impact on everyone’s lives.

Read on to know about five passionate people whose work is impacting millions of lives worldwide.

  1. Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO)

    “For 20 years, the spectre of a global pandemic lay dormant. But when it made a dramatic reappearance in 1997, Margaret Chan was on the spot.”  – The Telegraph

    A Chinese native, Chan is the Director- General of WHO. She was appointed for her first term in 2006 and began a second five-year term in 2012. Recognised for successfully handling the outbreak of avian influenza in 1997, and the SARS outbreak of 2003 in Hong Kong.

    As the leader of the global health organization, she plays a crucial role in eradicating communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria among other vaccine preventable diseases. She identified six core areas for the organization: development for health, health security, health systems capacity, information and knowledge with a focus on improving the health of people of low- resource countries.

  2. Vikram Patel, Mental Health Care Advocate

    Mental health suffers from a major image problem. One in every four people experiences mental health issues — yet more than 40 percent of countries worldwide have no mental health policy. Vikram Patel studies how to treat mental health conditions in low-resource communities, where you might not find trained people at the right time. He came up with a model of training ordinary people to help others in need.  He also wrote the book “Where There is No Psychiatrist”, a mental health care manual for non-specialist health workers.

    Based in Goa for much of the year, he’s the co-founder of Sangath, a local NGO dedicated to mental health. He was also the co-founder of the Centre for Global Mental Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. In April 2015 Vikram Patel also made it to the Time magazine’s annual list of 100 most influential people in the world. For more ideas from Vikram Patel watch his TED talk on “Mental Health for All by Involving All”.

  3. Francis S. Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health (NIH)

    Francis Collins is an American geneticist who discovered the genes causing genetic diseases. He led the international Human Genome Project, a multibillion-dollar effort to locate and map every gene in human DNA. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor in 2007. Collins’ herculean accomplishment yielded a trove of data which is fully accessible to the scientific community. The research, which led to the creation of DNA instruction book containing information about 20,500 human genes, improved public health by identifying genes associated with Type2 Diabetes and locating the genes responsible for Cystic Fibrosis, Neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease, and Progeria.As NIH’s director, he oversees the work of the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, spanning the spectrum from basic to clinical research.

  4. Arunachalam Muruganantham, Inventor/Social Entrepreneur

    “Arunachalam Muruganantham created a system of simple machines to make modern sanitary napkins — giving millions of women in his home country and around the world access to hygiene.”

    Muruganantham re-engineered the sanitary-napkin making machine, and won the award for best innovation for the betterment of society from the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai in 2006. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene and it can also affect maternal mortality. He revolutionized the menstrual health for rural women in India and other developing countries. Arunachalam Muruganantham’s Jayaashree Industries does close to a million dollars of business every year and empowers its customers with entrepreneurship. For his innovation and efforts, he was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014.

  5. Tom Frieden, Director, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

    “Can the nations of the world work together to stop the next deadly pandemic – before it happens? Is it possible to make the world safe and secure from infectious disease threats, whether natural or man-made? Yes, it’s not only possible – it’s underway,” Tom Frieden.

    Before becoming the Director of the CDC, he served as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. His major accomplishments include decrease in the number of smokers by 350,000, and decline in teen smoking by half. Under his supervision, New York City became the first place in the United States to eliminate trans-fats from restaurants. A physician with training in internal medicine, infectious diseases, public health, and epidemiology, Frieden is especially known for his expertise in tuberculosis control.


“Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
- Francis of Assisi



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