Harold Varmus, Nobel Laureate and Former NIH Director, Outlines His Vision for 'Science Peace Corps' As Way to Combat Third World Health Crises
Annual Schwartz Memorial Health Policy Lecture at NYU’s Wagner School Focuses on Scientific and Medical Strategies To Increase Health and Wealth of World’s Poor
The AIDS pandemic is only the most visible and urgent of the many health challenges facing citizens in developing countries; others include malaria, drug-resistant tuberculosis, childhood diseases and inadequate maternal and prenatal healthcare. This burden of disease causes staggeringly high mortality rates among the poor in the Third World, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
Public health experts increasingly argue that there is an intrinsic linkage between the health condition of a nation’s people and the potential economic growth needed for a nation to develop. They make the case that good health is a necessary predicate to, not just a result of, economic development.
On February 28th, Harold Varmus, MD, president and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, co-recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize in medicine, and former Director of the National Institutes of Health, delivered the 2nd Annual Arnold Schwartz Memorial Health Lecture at the Wagner School. Entitled “Globalizing Biomedical Sciences,” Dr. Varmus’ address outlined the significant themes of his vision for a more active approach by developed countries for tackling the public health challenges faced by the developing world.
Despite great strides in medical and scientific research during the 20th Century –such as the discovery of cures for malaria and tuberculosis – there remains, said Dr. Varmus, a great disparity between health outcomes in rich and poor countries. He lays the blame for this in part on a failure to focus research dollars or to apply discovered solutions towards actually addressing public health problems in the developing World.
“We have had a very successful century scientifically, but one that is subject to criticism with respect to health outcomes, the equity with which we apply solutions, our ability to find solutions, and our willingness to invest in some of the diseases that are most rampant in poor parts of the world. What can those of us who are scientists interested in health do to make the next century a better one?” asked Dr. Varmus. In response, he proposes three solutions:
- globalizing the “culture of science” and disseminating worldwide vital scientific research and medical knowledge through free Internet-based access to the leading scientific journals;
- creating a “Science Peace Corps” by which newly minted science graduates and senior scientists from developed countries go to those parts of the world now underserved by science and aid in the building of a local science and medical research capacity;
- adopting the recommendations of the December 2001 report “Macroeconomics and Health: Investing In Health For Economic Development” from the World Health Organization, which calls for, among other things, increased, smarter investments in the public health systems within the developing world as both an end unto itself and as a means to economic prosperity.
The Arnold Schwartz Memorial Health Lecture is named for the late Arnold Schwartz, a founder of Paragon Oil Company and well-known health and education philanthropist. His widow Marie Schwartz, a NYU Life Trustee, made a gift of $100,000 to the Wagner School to endow this lecture series, now in its second year. Last year’s inaugural speaker was Yale Medical School Dean David A. Kessler, MD, the former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration.