The magazine of the UW School of Public Health

From the Dean

Working Across Borders

Howard FrumkinIn the last issue of Northwest Public Health, I described crossing the country on the way to Seattle. That journey foreshadowed this issue of NPH, with its focus on borders. A 2,500-mile road trip from Atlanta crosses a lot of borders—geographic, demographic, economic, political, and cultural. This issue of NPH looks at several kinds of borders that operate in public health: political borders such as our nearby geographical border with Canada; demographic borders, often a challenge to social justice; and conceptual borders, which we need to traverse if we are to ask and answer important public health questions.

Geographic borders
Public health problems rarely respect the boundaries of political jurisdictions. Here at UW, our WWAMI program (named for five northwestern states) and our Northwest Center for Public Health Practice collaborate across state lines. In January, public health experts from UW, the University of British Columbia, and Simon Fraser University met at Semiahmoo, near the Canadian border, for conferences on occupational and environmental health and the changing demographics in public health. The shared culture of the Northwest, our shared population trends, our common habitat, even our shared risks of earthquakes as the recent tragedy in Japan reminds us, highlight the need to work across political borders.

Cultural Borders
Another kind of border is demographic rather than geographic: the borders that divide groups of people. Diversity is a central value in public health, for both practical and moral reasons. We do our best work when we integrate diverse points of view. And fairness requires that opportunities be widely and equitably available. We need to create institutional climates that recognize and traverse borders of culture, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.

Conceptual Borders
Public health tackles far-reaching and important problems: who gets health care, how to achieve behavior change, how to design healthy communities. Almost none of these problems can be understood and solved using the tools of a single discipline. Many of the determinants of health lie upstream from the health sector, in fields as diverse as agriculture and civil engineering, energy policy and trade policy, housing and education. We need to push ourselves to think broadly, to cross-train ourselves, and to collaborate with professionals from other fields.

Public Health is Global Health
Ultimately, of course, public health crosses all borders. In a globalizing world, people, money, information, goods, behaviors, and diseases travel rapidly and extensively. At the School of Public Health, we take our global role seriously. Our Department of Global Health, housed jointly in the Schools of Public Health and Medicine, aims to close the gap between the one billion people in the world who enjoy relatively good health and the five billion who don’t.

I hope you enjoy this issue of Northwest Public Health, and I hope it inspires you to cross many borders in your work, in pursuit of our shared goal of health for all people.

Howard Frumkin, Dean
UW School of Public Health