Departments at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) are changing their names to reflect the increasingly international aspect of public health in the 21st century.
The Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Population and International Health is now the Department of Global Health and Population (GHP), while Harvard Medical School’s Department of Social Medicine is the Department of Social Medicine and Global Health.
The term global health was first popularized by the Institute of Medicine in a 1997 report, “America’s Vital Interest in Global Health,” edited by then-HSPH Dean Harvey Fineberg and his soon-to-be successor Dean Barry Bloom.
These changes at HMS and HSPH accompany the University’s effort to strengthen institution-wide global health activities in the interfaculty Harvard Initiative for Global Health, which is dedicated to increasing opportunities for educating the next generation of global health leaders. The renaming of programs and expansion of goals reflect an evolution of thinking within the University regarding the importance of engagement by universities in global problems and in making Harvard a truly global university.
While the HSPH department has long cultivated expertise in the measurement and analysis of health and demographic data, and has offered policy advice in individual countries in the developing world, it has become increasingly clear that the agenda to improve health includes many issues that span the globe, ranging from the prevention, treatment, and care of infectious and chronic diseases to the integration of health systems and health planning into each country’s social, economic, political, and ecological context.
Areas of newly increased focus of the HSPH’s Department of Global Health and Population include the design and reform of local, national, and global health systems; the economic, political, and social determinants and consequences of population health and demographic change; the design, effectiveness, implementation, and practicality of system models and public and private interventions intended to improve general and reproductive health; and careful consideration of the possible unintended consequences of reforms.
The department seeks to draw out the lessons that are transferable from country to country — whether from developed to developing countries, vice versa, or between countries at similar levels of development. In all of the department’s efforts to understand and improve global health, ethical and human rights considerations are central.
The Department of Social Medicine at HMS will be formally known as the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine beginning in the 2008-09 academic year. This change reflects the increasingly important international orientation of the department and acknowledges the outstanding work being conducted around the world by many HMS faculty members.
In the ongoing Strategic Planning Initiative, the HMS global health advisory group was charged with reviewing the range of existing global health activities and making recommendations for how these might be more effectively supported and coordinated. The group placed top priority on identifying a central institutional structure within HMS to assist in organizing global health activities, especially educational experiences for medical students. It would also guide the dean in responding to requests for collaboration from institutions throughout the world and assume some of the responsibilities previously held by Harvard Medical International. These activities will now officially fall within the scope of the renamed department.