Healthy at Hopkins at 75

May 14, 1992

Seventy five years is a long time in a fast-moving society. Especially if you've been directly involved in accelerating the pace, as have the researchers at Johns Hopkins University's School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Abel Wolman established the pace in 1918, only a year after the nation's first public health school was founded, pushing chlorination of drinking water supplies. His pioneering work with water treatment and sewerage in Baltimore was copied all over the country, putting an end to the water-borne epidemics that had marred urban life.

Jonas Salk is widely respected as the man who made the first polio vaccine. What is not so widely remembered is that the basic research on which the vaccines depended was done here in Baltimore. David Bodian, Howard Howe and Isabel Morgan trailed polio, the notorious child-killer, from 1942, finding that therapies attacking it in the lungs were missing the target. Polio was really a gastrointestinal disease, and its prevention and treatment demanded different strategies. Polio has mainly been conquered in Western society -- no outbreaks since August 1991 -- a testament to pioneering work at the Hopkins school of public health.

The health value of vitamins in the diet is now so enshrined in public consciousness that there are actually people who over-vitaminize. In 1918, when Elmer McCollum joined the Hopkins faculty, vitamins were a new discovery. "Dr. Vitamin," as McCall's magazine called him, had already isolated Vitamin A and at Hopkins he found Vitamin D and became a national advocate for the balanced diet. His work paid off in the virtual elimination of rickets as a childhood disease.

Today, researchers such as Alfred Sommer, Hygiene and Public Health's dean, are on the cutting edge of the world "child survival revolution," designing new vitamin treatment programs for children in Third World countries.

The list goes on, exhaustively. Today, 1,160 students from 75 countries study graduate programs at the School of Health and Public Hygiene. More than 7,000 alumni are working to boost public health in 130 countries. And the 300 full-time and 375 part-time faculty lead research and provide technical assistance in 45 countries.

That supplies powerful impetus for the public health improvements making headlines all around the world over the 75-year life of the school. It is thus not mere boosterism to say these achievements need celebrating. Without them, many of today's urban population would have a much harder life.

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