Gillings’ singing statisticians

6-26-2014 5-54-26 PMCheck out this video! Our students wrote and produced a very cool statistical love song. Now, that’s not normal, is it? But surely, it is well within the confidence limit for statisticians. And I’m certain it is significant! I love how talented our students are. If you like this one, share it, tweet it, like it and enjoy it.


Dickens likes daylilies.

Since it’s summer, I thought readers might like to see how well our daylilies are doing (photo at left). Our black Labrador, Dickens, likes them a lot.


Tessa welcomes guests.

Then, there’s Tessa, the very properly attired canine who’s loved by two wonderful friends of the School, Dr. Robert Verhalen and Phyllis Verhalen, who hosted a 75th-anniversary event at their lovely home in McLean, Va., last weekend.

It’s summer. Hope you get some R&R. Barbara



The US and Polio

Last week, I spoke to a reporter for The Nation’s Health about why 13 deans wrote to the President last year about the danger of politicizing vaccines. Polio is a vivid recollection for many people of my generation. I still remember the summer when I was an elementary school student, and polio struck our neighborhood. One day, the sister of a boy in my class was diagnosed with polio. Soon after, we were told she’d died. Everyone was afraid. It was the same kind of fear we had about nuclear war–that somewhere, a menace was lurking, and we never knew when it might strike. (This, of course, was during the same time that Americans were building fallout shelters and trying to make ethical, if theoretical, decisions about who they would allow in.) Polio, and the fear that accompanies disease outbreaks, should be long gone. We have the means to do that. The disease can be eradicated. But it won’t happen if ordinary people are afraid of the vaccine that prevents polio.

The fact that polio vaccination was used as a political tool in deadly global politics in Pakistan makes me especially angry. It is outrageous that some vaccinators were murdered, and some children who should have received vaccines did not. When vaccines are misused for political ends, we undermine trust in all vaccines. If the U.S. government used vaccines as tools of war once, then some people may wonder about us and the vaccines.

I was passionate about signing the letter that the deans sent to President Obama. The president and his key staff members in homeland security and counterterrorism deserve credit for paying attention to our letter and for committing in May, 2014, that “[The CIA] will make no operational use of vaccination programs or vaccination workers.”

As we wrote, “…today we are on the verge of completely eradicating polio…” I hope that countries where polio has been on the rise—Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria—will redouble their efforts and will not make excuses for denying their countries the benefits of 20th-century science and medicine. No child should die of, become crippled by or fear a disease we can prevent.


Celebrating a gentleman, a scholar and a dentist

Last Thursday, the Gillings School of Global Public Health and the School of Dentistry (SOD) communities at UNC-Chapel Hill celebrated dental public health and one of its truly great heroes, Gary Rozier, DDS, MPH, professor, Health Policy and Management, with an afternoon of panel discussions, reception and dinner. On the way to dinner, we were led from the SOD to SPH by the Bulltown Strutters. What a great time! Thanks to Angelica Figueroa for the video.

Gary Rozier has been on the faculty for 38 years, and his commitment to improve dental public health hasn’t wavered. The April issue of Pediatrics includes an article from Gary and his colleagues on Into the Mouths of Babes. The program delivers care to children who might not otherwise have access, reduces caries-related treatments and costs, averts hospitalizations and improves oral health status. It is a great innovation, the kind that makes a real difference for children, families and communities. That’s public health at its finest. There’s still an immense need for dental care and dental public health in N.C. and around the world. We’re so grateful to the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.C. Foundation for providing a generous grant to the schools of public health and dentistry to build on the great contributions Gary has made through the Excellence in Dental Public Health Initiative. We also appreciate a gift from Delta Dental.


Gary Rozier with Leslie Zeldin, Ashley Krantz and Jackie Burgette.

Brad Wilson, JD, chief executive officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.C. and its Foundation, spoke about the priority they place on improving dental public health. Too often, people with severe dental problems end up at emergency rooms, and ERs are not set up to deliver quality dental care. At the dinner Thursday evening, we announced the Douglass-Rozier Distinguished Professorship, a very generous gift from Chester W. Douglass, DMD, PhD, SMc, and his wife, Joy Douglass, two wonderful people. Chet is a distinguished dental public health researcher. Their gift will be another critical piece of delivering on Gary’s contributions to dental public health and will help to assure that the legacy remains alive. Outstanding dean of the SOD, Jane Weintraub, DDS, MPH, and I both are committed to this work and value that it has impact beyond our walls.

We closed the evening with Gary’s remarks, after being rendered nearly but not quite speechless when he discovered his name on the professorship, along with his beloved mentor, Chet Douglass. I was so impressed by the way Gary talked about the opportunities he has had here at UNC-Chapel Hill, and how he took the time to acknowledge and thank UNC, along with many individuals. His graciousness, his gratitude, and his contributions are awesome. Gary is a perfect example of someone who has published prodigiously, mentored on a legendary scale (over 100 mentees), and contributed deeply while also a fabulous citizen of his department, school and university. He’s kind, decent and truly a gentleman and a scholar –  a great testament to the power of civility in an age of distraction.

Happy Tuesday. Barbara

Jon Stewart: No Denying It. Anti-Vaccine Movement is Anti-Science

Daily Show‘s exposé: These people really should know better

I started getting emails with links to last night’s Jon Stewart episode on science idiocy this afternoon. I clicked on the segment, and it’s amazing. They’ve taken on the anti-vaccination movement and science denial with far more effectiveness than most of us could achieve. They did a great service by pointing out that vaccine-preventable diseases are surging in some parts of the U.S., like California and Oregon, because parents are not getting their children vaccinated. What we have is an outbreak of misinformation, disseminated by people who don’t believe in evidence and think that scientists lie to people, and that childhood communicable diseases occur because of toxins in the water. And there’s no vaccine for toxins in the water. Ironically, as Dr. Paul Offit said on the show, the only cure for the anti-vaccination movement is the emergence of disease outbreaks. That’s no way to stop a movement. Watch the segment. It’s ironically funny and quite true. Barbara

When health-care workers die

Delivering care in dangerous places

Recently, we were asked about our interest in being part of a public health initiative in Iraq. It seemed too soon and too dangerous a place, even though one of our faculty members traveled there over Christmas. I worry when our faculty members and students want to go to some of the world’s most dangerous places. They want to protect others, but I want to protect them.

Earlier today, I heard from Evan Russell, a committed, really smart MD/PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-founder of Empowerment Health. Evan and I met a few years ago when he visited UNC. He is very concerned about the way health-care delivery has been politicized in some parts of the world, such as in Afghanistan, putting health care workers at extreme risk.

Last year, ten deans of schools of public health, including me, signed a letter voicing serious concerns about CIA actions in Pakistan. In order to get information about the Bin Laden family, the CIA created a sham polio vaccine campaign, jeopardizing the lives of workers who went from village to village vaccinating people. Several of those workers died subsequently. It is outrageous to think of turning a lifesaving anti-polio campaign into a farce, especially when Pakistan is one of the very few places in the world where polio is still a health threat. This is just one example of many cases in which health-care workers became casualties in hostile operations when they were just trying to do their jobs in some of the most dangerous places on earth.

Russell wrote about the tragic death of a colleague, Jerry Umanos, MD, a pediatrician who had been doctoring in Afghanistan for 12 years. He was killed April 24 outside the hospital where he’d saved many lives. It’s unbearably poignant that a physician would be killed in a country where health services have crumbled and his services are so needed.

From 2003-2013, 965 humanitarian workers were murdered in the line of duty. The jobs have gotten even more dangerous in the last few years. If health-care workers cannot feel safe and be protected even in some of the most dangerous places on earth, what will happen to the people in those places? Protection won’t come from guns alone but from multiple forces coalescing to assure the safety of these true heroes. Neither we nor our government should turn our backs on these doctors (and nurses and other health-care professionals). The world needs them.

I don’t have the answers but we need to find them … now. Barbara

Get Ready World – UNC Gillings 2014 Graduates Headed Your Way!


School of Public Health Commencement

Nicole Bates, DrPH, two-time alumna of the Gillings School and keynote speaker at the commencement ceremony, leads the global advocacy and policy strategies for polio eradication, vaccines and child health at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Her efforts have contributed to more than $8 billion in global commitments to support vaccination programs in the world’s poorest countries.

Our May 10 Gillings commencement was solemn, raucous, fun, thoughtful, poignant and exuberant. Nearly 400 excited graduates crossed the stage, in the process signifying what they have accomplished, traversing a bridge between the past and the world ahead. We’re proud that most of them either will continue their educations or will go to work at jobs in their fields.

Nicole Bates, MPH, DrPH, our commencement speaker, is one of our own, and she was marvelous. She spoke from that intersection of heart and mind, giving advice Oprah- style in the What I know now tradition. Dr. Bates shared her own hopes and fears, and described what she’d learned in the slums of developing world countries and by the bedside of a dying family member, her impatience for change when she was a student, and how a professor’s purple pen had helped her hone her skills. Today, she is leading an effort to eradicate polio around the world, a world that will become better for all if we improve the lot of women and children.

Congratulations, Gillings students! You’re awesome, and we will miss you!


Read more:


Gillings students making a difference

Impact award winners: Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, Jennifer Poti, Cynthia Lin, Paul Gilbert, Kari Debbink

Impact award winners: Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, Jennifer Poti, Cynthia Lin, Paul Gilbert, Kari Debbink

Last week, I attended several events where our students and their work were showcased. Hearing them talk about what they have accomplished was uplifting and enjoyable. Afterward, I couldn’t stop talking about our students.

Health behavior student teams reported the results of their eight-month-long work across N.C. Eight student teams worked during that period with community and other organizations to analyze problems, make recommendations and begin solving these problems. They attacked issues including opioid overdoses, unintended pregnancies and planning for aging populations. Students got real-life experience acting on community issues and, in the process, gave thousands of hours of assistance to North Carolinians.

That same night, about 150 members of the University’s Board of Visitors (BOV) visited the School for a reception. Students were positioned around the edges of the atrium with examples of their research, and they were fantastic describing what they had accomplished. We heard so many wonderful comments about our students’ work from BOV members. Many members also told me about members of their families who’d gone here and had impressive jobs in their fields of interest.

Later in the week, four of our students won Impact Awards from the Graduate School—one-fifth of all the impact awards to graduate students.  Impact awards recognize the benefit of students’ research for North Carolina. And about half of all awards were for projects focused on public health issues. A fifth student awardee, Kari Debbink, is in microbiology, but works in Ralph Baric’s epidemiology lab. Public health is everywhere at UNC.

SPHG690 student presents on Project Sahaay.

SPHG690 student presents on Project Sahaay.

The next day, I had the great joy of attending final presentations of students in SPHG690. They’ve been studying implementation science. Half of them collaborated with Wake County (N.C.) Human Services and tackled the problem of people getting turned away from STD clinics held by the health department, and they. Our students came up with great, practical solutions. I was impressed that they’d sat in clinics and observed, spoken with doctors and administrators and read the literature. The India team in the class collaborated with our partner FHI360 to increase AIDS hotline call volume for gay men through Project Sahaay. Seeing what our students can accomplish, with guidance and mentoring from faculty in the School and field work advisers, is awesome.


Civility in Universities

A national problem?

Judging from the number of universities that have active programs aimed at encouraging civility on campus, there must be a national problem. Search Google. You may be surprised at how many programs there are. I was – and stopped counting at 50 universities. Maybe all these programs are aimed at preventing incivility and promoting civility, but that’s not how it looks to me after a couple hours of scanning websites. It looks to me as though these programs often have resulted from problems on campuses.

What do we mean by civility? This, from the University of Memphis website:

Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another. It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health. Taking an active interest in the well-being of our community and concern for the health of our society is also involved in civility.

–P. M. Forni

At Northwestern University, civility is an expectation that is part of the Faculty Handbook. At Johns Hopkins University, P.M. Forni, a professor there, co-founded the Johns Hopkins Civility Project (JHCP) in 1997. An aggregation of academic and community outreach activities, the JHCP aimed at assessing the significance of civility, manners and politeness in contemporary society. Forni’s books on civility are best-sellers, so great is the need for guidance on the subject of civility.

The vast literature on the subject suggests that civility involves respect and consideration, listening to others without preconceived judgment, looking for possibilities of agreement or at least bridging the gap between us and another person, and considering that we may not always be right. I don’t have the answers to why incivility happens or the preventative for incivility. I don’t have the antidote to incivility or the foolproof strategy that will end it. Since this is a collective, cultural issue, I’d like to begin a dialogue in which we talk about civility and about how to create civil environments. Make incivility as rare as smallpox.

That’s my thought for the day on a beautiful April Wednesday. Barbara

Matt Damon and our School of Public Health

Water is the global language

quoteMatt Damon is connected to our school of public health. Well, sort of. Matt Damon and our alumnus Gary White, head of an NGO called Water Partners, were interviewed by McKinsey & Co.

Damon and White spoke persuasively about the fact that the water scarcity problem will not be solved by charity alone. They argue that it’s not a scarcity problem. It is a distribution problem. They’ve used a variety of strategies, including microloans, to make water available and accessible to communities that never before had regular sources of water. As Damon wrote compellingly, as he left one town in Africa, he realized that the conversation he’d had with a teenager never would have happened during the years when young girls and women in the town spent their days trekking water. Then, they had no futures. They didn’t see education and careers in their futures. Having water changed everything.

Gary White and Matt Damon interviewed by McKinsey & Co.

Gary White and Matt Damon interviewed by McKinsey & Co.

I’m proud of these two men for elevating the discussion about water, bringing deep understanding about what is needed for global change and for doing something to solve the problem.

Happy Monday. Barbara


Lessons learned in the garden

What pruning can teach us about life



Every now and then, I have one of those moments that people who garden experience.  Suddenly, I discover that I absolutely detest some aspect of the garden. Yesterday afternoon, after a full day in the office, I got out the pruning shears and started cutting away errant branches on several very dull  bushes on our property. They were entangled with kudzu vines, making them really unpleasant. Pruning more and more aggressively, I concluded that these bushes had to go. (Someone else would like them, I hoped.) I scanned the other side of the path the bushes fronted and saw that there was a potentially lovely crepe myrtle being blocked. I worked my shears and freed the crepe myrtle to face the sun. I could almost feel the tree reaching for the sun.

This experience got me thinking. There was no question that getting the vines out of the way would save the bushes (for someone else). And I am confident that the crepe myrtle will perk up without that weed-tree blocking its sun. Sometimes, we have to take things away to allow something else to grow. The garden is a good teacher, and although I’m hardly a master gardener, I’ve learned some things over the years. I try to educate myself about various plants and then take an experimental approach. If something doesn’t do well in one place, I’ll move it around and see if different conditions improve the outcome.

Spring comes to the SPH

Spring comes to the SPH

I’m not talking about people but about the tendency to add without any subtraction. If we merely continue to add programs, activities or any such things without stopping some things, then, here, too, we crowd out the sun. The garden got me thinking.

Happy Monday. Barbara