June 9, 1997

Emory to host Sawyer Seminars

on emerging health issues

Emory has received $200,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund two Sawyer Seminars that will allow graduate and post-doctoral students to explore how the United States and other countries are responding to complex health problems, including the delivery of health care and society's response to emerging public health issues.

James Fowler, director of Emory's Center for Ethics in Public Policy and the Professions, will oversee "Healthcare: Let the Market Handle It? Ethical Perspectives on Privatization," in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France and Germany. The seminar will begin in fall 1998 and conclude in December 1999.

International health expert Randall Packard, director of the Emory Center for the Study of Health, Culture and Society and chairman of the history department, will direct the other seminar, "Defining Public Health," which will explore the ways that culture, politics, economics and other forces affect the rise of certain forms of disease and individual suffering to the status of a publicly acknowledged health problem. The seminar will take place January 1998 through May 1999.

Fowler's seminar will look at the dramatic and complex changes occurring in the United States and other countries regarding how they allocate public and private resources for the delivery of health care services and the growing pressures and tendencies to let market forces determine how health care is provided. Seminar participants will study how five nations are containing costs, maintaining quality of services, ensuring access to care and nurturing a relationship of trust between providers and care recipients.

"We will draw on ethical approaches that can inform public policy proposals consistent with the values of the countries we study," said Fowler. "We will particularly focus our work on ethically founded proposals for shaping health care policies that offer equity and choice, distributive justice and efficiency, public accountability and private economic initiative."

The first two semesters of the seminar will be spent establishing a common understanding and framework for exploring the issues. Seminar participants will present preliminary reports in summer 1999, and the third semester will be devoted to writing journal articles and a book and producing videotapes of the seminar.

In "Defining Public Health," Packard and his colleagues will look at how the emergence or re-emergence of diseases in the United States and around the world raises questions about how society defines public health and how diseases move from individuals to the status of public health problems. Of particular interest, said Packard, is whether "privatization and emergence of managed health care in this country, or reductions in government spending on health in developing countries, have shaped the processes through which public health issues are defined."

The weekly seminar will feature speakers from Emory, along with local, national and international activists and academics. The first semester's theme will be "Emerging Illnesses and Communities of Suffering," which will cover communities that include "cults of affliction," therapy management groups and Internet bulletin boards in an attempt to determine how information is shared, how communities support each other and the impact of information networks.

The focus of the second semester, "Environmental Hazards, Community Activism and Public Health," will explore experiences of individuals and groups suffering from environmental hazards. In addition, participants will consider the mobilization of financial, legal and moral resources to combat the interests behind national and international hazards. The final semester will focus on "Emerging Illnesses and Institutional Responses" and will investigate how public health responses to emerging disease problems originate and develop and how politics, economics and cultural sensitivities shape domestic and international response. Each semester will conclude with a mini conference.

Donald G. Stein, vice provost and dean of the graduate school of arts and sciences, facilitated the Sawyer Seminar proposal process and will continue to provide administrative direction. The program includes funding for postdoctoral and graduate fellowships and visiting scholars and will draw faculty and resources from Emory's arts and sciences, health sciences and professional schools.

The Sawyer Seminars program, named in honor of the Mellon Foundation's second president, John E. Sawyer, is designed to provide an opportunity for serious inquiry into the historical and cultural sources of contemporary development. The Mellon Foundation's overall mission is to "aid and promote such religious, charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes as may be in the furtherance of the public welfare or tend to promote the well-doing or well-being of mankind."

-Nancy Seideman

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