Emory Report

 November 10, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 12

New center bridges medicine,
public health, social sciences

When Randall Packard first came to Emory in 1992 with a joint appointment in the departments of history and international health, he was impressed with the University's rich, academic resources in many areas including the health and social sciences and medical anthropology.

He soon discovered "there wasn't a lot of dialogue occurring among the various parts of the University" and began exploring ways to bridge various disciplines.

He met with and gained the support of many people-including the provost, the director of The Carter Center, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and deans from the schools of arts and sciences, public health, medicine and nursing. And in 1993 the Center for the Study of Health, Culture, and Society (CSHCS) was created with Packard as its director.

Although physically located in the School of Public Health, CSHCS is a Universitywide center reporting to the Provost's Office. The center's stated purpose is to provide a forum that "brings together people from different disciplines and perspectives to find common ground to talk about issues of public health importance," said Packard. The center also develops programs that reflect the innovative ideas that come out of the different perspectives of this cross-fertilization.

Emory is an ideal place for this type of center because of the range of resources and people here as well as its physical location. "It's a 10-minute walk from one side of the campus to another, and CDC is right down the road. If you get things going, people will come to them because they don't have to travel long distances to actually interact.

"For the first three or four years, basically my job was networking-getting people together, sitting down with them and trying to figure out how people coming from different perspectives could come together and think creatively about ideas and issues of public health importance," said Packard, also a Candler professor and chair of the history department.

"The center is a place where people who have ideas can come to get seed funding to develop an idea and move forward with it," he said, noting that sometimes people from other parts of the University hear about a project and participate.

Some of CSHCS's earlier activities included programs on women, health and development, and a symposium on developing community-based tuberculosis prevention programs in Georgia. Now CSHCS sponsors a wide variety of programs and activities including various fellowships, a lecture series, workshops and faculty seminars.

For instance, this fall CSHCS awarded four interdisciplinary graduate fellowships in arts and sciences and public health. Two allow arts and sciences doctoral students to study public health, and two allow public health students to study complementary disciplines in one or more arts and sciences fields. The goal is to encourage the application of the perspectives of social sciences and humanities to issues of domestic and international public health.

CSHCS also sponsors an Emergent Illness and Public Scholarship Program, the first of a three-year series of programs supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and run jointly with the Center for the Study of Public Scholarship. This program, which began this fall, looks at the way in which knowledge about emerging illnesses is developed outside the medical establishment. Two fellows will be at Emory this fall and and two more in the spring. The fellows are participating in workshops and doing their own research.

In January, CSHCS will begin a three-semester faculty seminar around the central theme "Defining the Public Health." Funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, the seminars will explore how social, cultural, economic and political factors define public health agendas within a range of cultural settings.

"We're looking at how it is that illnesses-the sufferings of individuals-emerge as public health issues," Packard said. The three semester seminars will examine emerging illnesses and communities of suffering; environmental hazards, community activism and the public health; and emerging illness and institutional responses.

Last spring CSHCS and the Institute for African Studies hosted a dissertation proposal-writing workshop for African students. The theme of the workshop was "Health, Culture and Society in Africa." CSHCS has also been active in "developing linkages with research institutes in Africa," Packard said, and "getting our students from various parts of the University overseas for research opportunities."

Along with the Rollins School, the law school and a number of Atlanta-based organizations involved in health, CSHCS co-sponsored a lecture series this fall on health and human rights issues. The final speaker will be Barry Levy, president of the American Public Health Association, who will discuss the impact of war on public health and human rights on Nov. 20. More information about the CSHCS is available at <www. emory.edu/CSHCS>.

-Linda Klein

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