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President Frenk’s Public Health Course Bridges the Gulf


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    By Maya Bell
    UM News

    INSP

    Students who took the public health course that President Julio Frenk, front center, taught in Mexico gather for a post-course group photo. Not pictured are UM students who listened in on a live webcast.

    CORAL GABLES, Fla. (August 10, 2017)—President Julio Frenk returned to Mexico last week to teach a course on a subject he knows well—the fundamental concepts of public health—at the now-renowned National Institute of Public Health (INSP) he helped launch 30 years ago.

    As INSP’s founding director and Mexico’s former minister of health, Frenk brought a wealth of knowledge and insight to the intensive eight-hour course that literally spanned the Gulf of Mexico. Held over four days at INSP headquarters in Cuernavaca, each two-hour class was simultaneously made available via live webcast to graduate students at the University of Miami.

    “It was a great opportunity and very worthwhile,” said Daniel Samano Martin del Campo, a physician who earned his medical degree in Mexico and is pursuing his master’s in public health at the Miller School of Medicine.

    “What I like about Dr. Frenk is his ability to connect complex ideas and concepts and paint a big picture—but it is his own picture with his background as a social scientist,” Samano continued. “I’ve gone to many of his talks around the U, not necessarily about public health, and every time he leaves you with a message—a meaningful message with words of wisdom you can apply to real-life scenarios.”

    Like Samano, Frenk earned his medical degree in Mexico before pursuing his master’s in public health. The former dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, UM’s sixth president was, in fact, among the pioneers of public health, a field that INSP has nurtured in Spanish-speaking countries around the world. Widely considered the top public health doctoral program in the developing world, INSP was created in large measure to conduct the research that would inform public policy.

    “In the course of a decade and a half, it completely changed the character of the public health research and education in a developing country,” Frenk told The Lancet for a profile of INSP the medical journal published in February.

    The institute was the brainchild of Guillermo Soberon Acevedo, who was president of Mexico’s National Autonomous University when Frenk was a medical student there and who went on to become Mexico’s minister of health in 1982.

    When Frenk followed Soberon as Mexico’s health minister in late 2000, he relied on INSP work to establish Seguro Popular, which brought health coverage to millions of uninsured Mexicans. INSP research also led to an increased cigarette tax and more nutritious food in schools.

    For Samano, who grew interested in public health during his mandatory social service year in a small, rural community outside Mexico City, Frenk’s real-world experiences and ability to explain the interactions between complicated health care systems, research, finances, and other complexities not learned in medical school made the virtual course particularly worthwhile.

    “It was in that small community of 6,000 that I realized medicine goes beyond treating one person at a time,” Samano said. “I wanted to learn more about the system and how to expand health to communities, not just persons. He’s spent his life doing that.”

    Graduate School Dean Guillermo “Willy” Prado said giving students on both sides of the Gulf access to a world authority on public health is consistent with the University’s aspiration of being a hemispheric institution.

    “The goal of public health scientists and practitioners is to achieve health equity and improve the health of populations globally,” Prado said. “INSP’s public health course taught by President Frenk, a leading public health expert, covered methods and concepts to help achieve this important goal.”

     

     

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