|Tribute to Dr. Allan Rosenfield, Dean, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University|
Invest in Women. Invest in the World.
I met Allan probably six or seven years ago and I had just decided that India was going to be a focus of mine to work on HIV/AIDS. I was having trouble getting some traction there and Allan was one of the people that I wanted to talk to about how to do that. I really didn't know too much of the world that Allan came from, and the more I got to know him, I realized that everyone knew Allan. Allan was 'the guy.' And not only was he 'the guy,' he was also the best guy. He was fun, and he was smart, and he was irascible, and he had the answers when you needed them, and he had the connections. He knew how to be skillful in a way that most people don't know how, because he knew how to work with people. He knew his stuff.
You read the biography of this man and it's extraordinary, where he's come from and how he has the wisdom and the compassion that he has developed within himself. But he also knows how to use it, and that is a whole other level of skills that makes not just good men, but great men. It communicates, and it unites people, and it galvanizes spirits.
We started a program with the Tibetans in India. It was a Tibetan health program-an initiative-and Allan did us a favor after we had been working on this insurance thing for many years. He gave us some people to evaluate what we were doing for the Tibetan refugee community in India. We've now expanded that program to 5,000 people—we are on the edge of expanding it even more to 10,000 people. Very much the inspiration of the kind of work that Allan and his compatriots have done over the years—the empowerment of women—is the legacy, I think, of our generation. Certainly, the recipients in most of the world of this horror, this pandemic of HIV/AIDS, is the empowerment of women. Many of the horrors and great tragedies that we have on the planet now...the beneficiaries in the end will be women. Clearly, Allan is in the forefront of that. Knew about it. Understood it. That's the core issue that we deal with on this planet.
There was a time years ago, I was working on a film, which I didn't end up making, but it was about the Inuit, the Eskimos. I was on this island out in the Bering Strait and this old Inuit there had some old songs that he wanted to sing and I wanted to hear about the old traditions. He had this song that he asked me if I wanted to hear. It was about his cousin and I said, "Yeah, I would love to hear this." He started singing this song and it was just one word, over and over again. It was a very long song also, and he went on and on and on, and I asked him at the end, "It was really great. What was it?" And he said, "That was my cousin's name."
I kind of feel like doing that right now. I just want to chant Allan's name because that's what I feel about him from my heart..."Allan, Allan, Allan, Allan, Allan, Allan, Allan, Allan." A good man, a great man, and friend to all of us. I am proud to know the guy...Allan Rosenfield.
Good evening, and thank you Richard for your very warm recognition. I am very honored to be here tonight and would like to thank the International Women's Health Coalition for hosting this wonderful event. I would also like to commend IWHC for its commitment to promoting the health and rights of women and girls worldwide. As I've said in the past, IWHC is one of the most active and influential US-based NGOs working in global health, and Adrienne Germain is an outstanding leader and a treasured friend and colleague, as is IWHC's wonderful chairperson, Kati Marton, and the creative first President, Joan Dunlop.
Like these individuals and many others in this room, I have spent my career-now 40 years-trying to help ensure that women and girls have access to the health services that are their basic right. When I worked in Nigeria and Thailand as a physician in the 1960s, most women did not have the option to decide how many children to have, because family planning services were not available to the poor. Today, many women can make that choice, but more work is needed to ensure that all women have access to family planning services. And it is essential that women throughout the world have access to safe abortion services.
Tragically, and for me personally, this is most discouraging, over half a million women still die each year from the complications of pregnancy and childbirth, a majority of them in low-income countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. We still live in a world where it took a lecture at an international AIDS meeting, followed by an article in a medical journal, to persuade policymakers that women living with HIV/AIDS deserve HIV drugs in their own right, not just to prevent infection in their babies at birth. And today, this is still a world where rape is a weapon of war, as Jan Egeland has so powerfully reminded us, and violence against women is epidemic.
Considering the collective brainpower, energy, and courage of the women and men who have worked so hard for so long to realize women's right to health and life, we all must ask ourselves—why do we still have so far to go?
I believe that at least part of the answer lies in how we value girls and women—whether we think it is worthwhile to invest in their health and protect their fundamental human rights. These are matters of deep personal and social values, of the power that men compared to women hold in society, and of political will to do what is right and just, not only what is proven to have a high rate of economic return. As my friend and colleague Mahmoud Fathalla once said, "Women are not dying because of a disease we cannot treat. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving."
To succeed in making the world safer for girls and women, these challenges must become everyone's business. We need action like the influential work of the International Women's Health Coalition and the global health initiatives at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, which include programs focused on maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, and reproductive health needs in emergency situations.
We need more action from business leaders and concerned citizens. Even ten minutes a day of people's time could make a difference—for example, ten minutes spent reading an article about educating girls in Nigeria and passing it on to others, or making the decision to sponsor a campaign to end violence against women, or asking Congressional representatives to develop policies on HIV/AIDS that are scientifically sound and actually empower and protect women and young people.
A sustained effort by individuals with different networks and areas of expertise—like all of you here tonight—is the only way to mobilize political commitment to protect the human rights and health of women and girls.
And men as well as women must be part of the effort. As Kofi Annan—another IWHC gala honoree—has written, change "requires fathers, husbands, sons and brothers to support and affirm the rights of women. It requires teachers to nurture the dreams and aspirations of girls. It requires men to help ensure that other men assume their responsibility-and understand that real manhood means protecting others from risk."
Together, we can all make the world safer for women.
Once again, I would like to thank the IWHC for hosting this gala. I greatly appreciate being honored here tonight. Thank you.
*Dr. Rosenfield's remarks were read, in part, by Adrienne Germain, IWHC President
Several years ago, more than I care to admit, I was working for a joint MBA/MPH degree from Columbia University. I got the MBA and went to work as an investment banker—I was young, what did I know—and I forgot about the MPH. Then several years ago I became friends with Dr. Rosenfield. He remarked in his straightforward yet kind of roguish way, "So why don't you come finish your degree at Mailman? We'll take it easy on you."
I thought for a second and replied..."Are you crazy? I have more than a full-time job; I sit on ten boards; I travel all over the place; my boyfriend is running for mayor…I could never in a million years find time for school." Allan coolly responded, "Of course you can." So, it was back to school for me. No one ever says no to Allan.
But Allan's charm is not the only reason I returned to Mailman when I did. I wanted Allan to be the one to shake my hand and give me my diploma, which he did last spring. Allan's commitment to good health and basic dignity for the world's most vulnerable people is breathtaking. He inspires and energizes us all to believe that each one of us-one person-all of us together can make a difference, just as he has done.
We are honoring Allan because he has spoken up and cared for women when others would forget them. When policymakers persisted in designing children's health programs without caring for their mothers, Allan demanded change. As doctors around the world worked to prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child, again, Allan ensured that the mothers themselves would also receive the treatment, care, and services that are their basic right.
So, Allan, in appreciation for your exceptional dedication and leadership, IWHC will make a grant in your name to an organization in Argentina—the Institute of Gender, Law, and Development (INSGENAR). Just as you have seen injustice and demanded change, the Institute monitors how women are treated in clinics and hospitals and uses their findings to change policies, to improve doctors' training, and to empower women to exercise their right to respectful health care.
Allan, we honor you, "for making women's health and rights the hallmark of your career-shaping a more equitable and just future for all the world's people." On behalf of the world's women, we thank you.