Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health Honored

October 24, 2012

The World Health Organization (WHO) inaugurated the Mailman School’s Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health as a WHO Collaborating Center for Bioethics, the only such center that explicitly focuses on the ethics of public health. 

The designation was based upon the Center’s prior collaborative work, the promise of future collaboration, and a thorough vetting process on the part of both the WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), WHO’s Regional Office for the Americas. The Center, co-directed by Professors David Rosner and Ronald Bayer, is only the second collaborating center in the U.S. and one of just six worldwide. 

Drs. Ron Bayer (left), David Rosner, and Amy Fairchild (second from right) accept the WHO flag.

At a formal ceremony on October 18, Dr. Andreas Alois Reis, MD, MSc, Technical Officer in the Department of Ethics and Social Determinants of Health at WHO headquarters in Geneva, presented the WHO flag to Professors Ronald Bayer, PhD, and Amy Fairchild, PhD, co-directors of the Collaborating Center. Dr. Reis spoke about the history of collaboration between the Center and WHO, and the work that is focused on the ethical issues surrounding HIV, TB, public health surveillance, and vaccination. 

In a provocative keynote speech, long time human rights advocate, and member of the Constitutional Court in South Africa, Justice Edwin Cameron shared his personal experiences with HIV against the historical backdrop of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  

Justice Cameron’s talk, titled Autonomy, Dignity, and Rights – A Judge’s Reflections, addressed how HIV/AIDS has moved us to reexamine the relationship between subject and science, the morality of dying, and the question of personhood. His moving and profound argument highlighted the issue of internalized stigma – its powerful but debilitating psychological and social repercussions, its negative effect on autonomy and choice, and the obstacles to studying, understanding, and combating it. He ended with a provocative call for an end to exceptionalist policies that have provided barriers to routine HIV testing. “In some situations,” Justice Cameron concluded, “our human frailty and the limits of our knowledge and strength of will, and the deficiencies of our insight, require that we should be able to rely on the wisdom and beneficence of others.”

The event, hosted by Dean Linda Fried and Sociomedical Sciences Chair Lisa R. Metsch, included special guests Mathilde Krim, PhD, founding chairman of AMFAR and member of the Board of Overseers for the Mailman School, Dikgang Ernest Moseneke, the current Deputy Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa, and Carla Saenz, PhD, who manages the Regional Bioethics Program at PAHO.