Alumni Notes

MPH

Melissa Adomako, MPH ‘17, relocated to Washington, DC and joined the American International Health Alliance as a Program Coordinator for Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.

Arielle Carpenter, BA/MPH ’11,married Dr. Jonathan Rogg, MD ‘09, on December 16 in Deerfield Beach, FL. The couple currently resides in Houston, TX where Arielle is Healthcare Innovation Lead at the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute and Jonathan is Emergency Physician, Associate Director of Emergency Department Operations at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Karin Christianson, MS/MPH ’16, joined the Food and Agricultural Organization at their Regional Office for Africa in Accra, Ghana, as a Program Officer in the Division of Partnerships and South-South Cooperation, responsible for facilitating partnerships with non-state actors across the region.

Meghan Dinh, MPH ’13, is now Communications Manager at Kaiser Permanente’s Institute for Health Policy in Oakland, CA in August.

Kimberly Haddad, JD/MPH ’08, was recognized as a 2017 Distinguished Alumni of the Worcester Public Schools.

Lisa Jane Jacobson, MD/MPH ’91, is an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University at Buffalo. She is leading curriculum development as Vice Chair for Medical Education in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and as Associate Dean for Medical Curriculum at the UB Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Kathy Kong, MPH ’15, along with three other anesthesiologists, presented an MGH clinical quality improvement poster in the Patient Safety and Practice Management session of the 2017 American Society of Anesthesiologists Conference in Boston.

Vanessa Lynskey, MPH ’14, relocated to Ann Arbor to pursue an MBA at the Michigan Ross School of Business. She plans to focus her studies and applied experiences in the social innovation space, specifically the intersection of entrepreneurship, social impact, and innovative tools like design thinking.

Laszlo Madaras, MD/MPH ’93, became the Co-Chief Medical Officer of the Migrant Clinicians Network in January, a 30+ year old organization based in Austin, TX that helps the mobile poor get access to healthcare locally and when crossing borders. He was appointed Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine in October where he teaches medical, PAs and NP students at the Summit Health campus.

Carolyn Panzarella, MS/MPH ’17, is now a Senior Analyst at PepsiCo in their Global Public Policy department. In this role she is developing and supporting cross-sector partnerships to aid PepsiCo in their portfolio transformation to improve access to PepsiCo’s healthier products and incentivize consumers to lead healthier lives, all the while helping to mitigate the regulatory risk facing the company. She is based in New York City.

Erica Raine, MPH ’11, is partially retired from clinical social work practice as she often travels to Ajo, AZ to visit her daughter, her husband and grandson. She continues to study and consult on behavioral health as a public health issue. Her current interests include the role of reduced dopamine in depression, and the health benefits of the various parts of the drum stick tree (moringa) which grows in desert climates and has been used to purify water and prevent malnutrition.

Katherine Round, MPH ’17, joined athenahealth in Watertown, MA, where she works on their hospital interoperability team helping bring EMR services to critical access hospitals across the country.

Sara Suter, MPH ’16, works as a Mental Health Care Partner for the Primary Care Behavioral Health Integration (PCBHI) program at Cambridge Health Alliance, providing brief interventions through warm hand-offs on-site, creating action plans for behavior change, and connecting patients to appropriate mental health services and resources.

Jennifer Truong, MPH ’08, joined Constellation Pharmaceuticals as their Clinical Trial Manager working on epigenetic targets and oncology drugs.

MS-Health Communication

Mardia Coleman, MS-HCOM ’14, is part of the consulting team of Goldman, Coleman and Sklar which published a paper in June, “Reaching Beyond Patient-Centered Medical Home Walls: A Mixed-Methods Evaluation of A Community Health Team Intervention.” This paper provides findings and lessons learned for others planning to implement a CHT program.

Narita Ghumman, MS-HCOM ’07, moved back to her hometown of Seattle where she now works as a Healthcare Marketing Manager at ADURO.

Sara Rattigan, MS-HCOM ’09, is now Communications Director for the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, a creative online multi-media platform to reduce stigma and increase conversations about the mental health and emotional well-being of children, teens, and young adults.

Joelle Zaslow, MS-HCOM ’15, is now Communications Specialist for Massachusetts General Hospital’s Research Institute.

MD/MBA

Barbar Khokhar, MD/MBA ’07, was appointed the inaugural Chief Clinical Transformation Officer for Yale Medicine and the Vice-Chair of Operations for the Department of Neurology at the Yale School of Medicine. In his new role he has developed the Yale Clinical Optimization Services (YCOS), a team of process improvement specialists implementing clinical redesign and quality improvement programs. As the CCTO he also oversees population health and clinical innovation endeavors for the institution. In his new roles he hopes to improve the patient and physician/provider experience.

Lisa Levine, MD/MBA ’05, is the CEO of The MAVEN Project (Medical Alumni Volunteer Expert Network) located in Watertown, MA. If there are any physicians interested in volunteering and participating in a fun, easy and meaningful experience, please contact her at llevine@mavenproject.org.

Rahul Sharma, MD/MBA ’01, was selected to receive the 2017 Emergency Care Innovation of the Year Award and was recognized at the American College of Emergency Physicians Scientific Assembly on October 28th in Washington, DC.

Amit Sura, MD/MBA ’08, and his wife Esha Gupta are living in southern CA. They welcomed their first child Rayan, 18 months. Amit is an Assistant Professor at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where he also serves as the fellowship program director.

Robert Tanouye, MD/MBA ’11, completed an Emergency Medicine Residency at New York Presbyterian/University Hospitals at Columbia and Cornell in 2015 and is an Attending Physician at NYP/Cornell and NYP/Lower Manhattan Hospital. He was recently appointed to Assistant Director of NYP/Lower Manhattan Hospital’s Emergency Department. He helped lead the Healthcare Leadership and Management Scholars program–an immersive summer experience for Weill Cornell Medical students aspiring to become future healthcare leaders–and are recruiting for their inaugural class of Healthcare Leadership and Management Fellowship–a Fellowship for recent Emergency Medicine Residency graduates seeking opportunities to lead in hospital setting.

MS- Pain Research, Education and Policy

Jessica Peck-Lindsey, MS-PREP ’12, has expanded her Acupuncture practice and is now collaborating with an herbalist, TCTSY trauma sensitive yoga practitioner, and a massage therapist. She is also currently enrolled in the certificate program in Traumatic Stress Studies at the Trauma Center at JRI in Brookline.

Physician Assistant

Jennifer Kish, PA ’17, is an Orthopedic PA with the Vermont Orthopedic Clinic, a division of the Rutland Regional Medical Center in Rutland, VT. She married fellow Tufts alumnus Charlie Hopkins on September 16th in Keene Valley, NY.

Faculty Notes

Ndidi Amutah-Onukagha, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine (PHCM) spoke in November on a panel at the inaugural Black Health Matters Conference being sponsored by Harvard University and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The focus of the talk will be on sexual health activism for underserved communities.

Paul Beninger, MD, MBA, Director of the MD/MBA and MBS/MBA Programs and Assistant Professor of PHCM co-authored a paper entitled “Theranos Experience Exposes FDA Regulatory Loopholes” in Clinical Pharmacology in Drug Development (2017) with Marcia Boumil, Professor of PHCM, Rohan Jotwani, MD/MBA ’17, and third year MD/MPH student Madeline Wetterhahn. He also published two papers and an editorial in Clinical Therapeutics (2017). Beninger presented a paper at the World Drug Safety Congress in May. He chaired a meeting at the Marcus Evans Evolution Summit that presented papers on issues facing Research and Development in the pharmaceutical industry, and moderated a roundtable, “Pharmacovigilance Operations & Strategies,” at Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development for more than 20 pharmaceutical companies.

Doug Brugge, PhD, MS, Professor of PHCM is the PI on a new grant from the Kresge Foundation to continue the work of a coalition of community and government partners to address traffic-related air pollution in Boston’s Chinatown.

Daniel B. Carr, MD, MA, Program Director, Pain, Research Education and Policy and Professor of PHCM co-chaired the 2017 Global Year Against Pain After Surgery, of the International Association for the Study of Pain. Its multiple activities included congresses, fact sheets in multiple languages, a new edition of a previous IASP book on this topic, and publication of a symposium proceedings, “Are Perioperative Opioids Obsolete?”, in IASP’s open access journal, PAIN Reports. Dr. Carr also was appointed to NIH’s Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee, which publicly released the Federal Pain Research Strategy on October 23, 2017.

Mei Chung, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor of PHCM gave a one-day workshop in Washington, DC on April 17, entitled “Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses in the Development of Food Policy: It’s Time to Set a Standardized Approach.” This workshop led to a sponsored online course offering that designed to teach end users of systematic reviews (with or without meta-analysis) the principles, utility, and methodologies of qualitative and quantitative evidence synthesis.

Olaf Dammann, MD, MSc has been named Vice Chair of the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. He is also thrilled to report that MD/MPH alumnus (’17) Ryan Flanagan’s manuscript, “The Epistemological Weight of Randomized-Controlled Trials Depends on Their Results” is forthcoming in the journal, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine.  This paper was the product of Ryan’s Applied Learning Experience for his MPH.

Sue Gallagher, MPH, Assistant Professor of PHCM served as a guest editor of a special issue of the Journal of AgroMedicine dedicated to socio-ecological approaches for improving agricultural safety and health. She also co-authored a commentary in the same issue titled “Using the Socio-ecological Model to Frame Agricultural Safety and Health Interventions.”

Jeffrey Griffiths, MD, MPH, Professor of PHCM spoke in Indonesia in September on antibiotic resistance and drinking water in Jakarta and Surabaya. In October, he helped teach an introductory biostatistics course to One Health MPH students from Africa and Asia at Hanoi Medical University in Vietnam. These activities were part of an Emerging Pandemic Threats USAID program that has been active at Tufts since 2010.

Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM, Director of the Digital Health Communication Certificate Program and Assistant Professor of PHCM had the non-profit she founded and runs at Tufts, RecycleHealth, featured in an ABC News article titled “Man loses 100 pounds in a year, assisted by donated fitness trackers.”

David Gute, MPH, PhD, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering co-led a plenary session on “Re-Integrating Engineering into Public Health Practice” at the University of North Carolina “Water and Health: Where Science Meets Policy” conference. This session featured a panel composed of practitioners and students from CARE, WHO, CDC, and UNC and Tufts.

Paul Hattis, MD, JD, MPH, Associate Professor of PHCM presented at Northeastern Law School on the Evolution of the MA Attorney General’s Guidelines for Hospitals and HMOs. He also testified before the MA Special Senate Committee on Health Care Cost Containment and Reform on how best to mitigate the harms of provider price variation in commercial health insurance payment.

Sabrina Kurtz-Rossi, MEd, Assistant Professor of PHCM offered a pre-course on Teaching Health Literacy and Cultural Humility to Achieve Health Equity, at the ICCH & HARC Conference in Baltimore, MD. This professional development session explored the evolving constructs of cultural competency and cultural humility, strategies for teaching, and methods of evaluation. Professionals from seven different countries attended the session. The session was co-sponsored by the International Health Literacy Association (IHLA) and the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) Global Workgroup on Health Literacy.

Barry S. Levy, MD, MPH, Adjunct Professor of PHCM presented a paper on climate change and its impacts on collective violence and forced migration, and on the impact of war on children at the APHA Annual Meeting. He also recently completed work as senior editor of the seventh edition of the textbook Occupational and Environmental Health, which will be published in November.

Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, Professor (secondary) of PHCM gave speeches at Columbia University and Tufts Medical Center titled “Dietary Pattern Shifts and/or Supplements to Fill Gaps Created by Chronic Disease and Drugs” and “Glycemic Index Helpful or A Red Herring?” respectively.

Dominique Michaud, ScD, Professor of PHCM published papers in Epidemiologic Reviews and Neuro-Oncology titled “Periodontal Disease, Tooth Loss, and Cancer Risk” and “Genotype-based gene signature of glioma risk” respectively. She also received a supplement for her NIH R01 grant on “Prospective immune profiling using methylation markers and pancreatic cancer risk.”

Beth Rosenberg, ScD, MPH, Assistant Professor of PHCM had a grant renewed to evaluate the United Steelworkers’ Health and Safety Training Program, which will allow her to interview refinery, chemical, and paper workers about what is working and what needs improvement in their training program.

Carolyn Rubin, EdD, Assistant Professor of PHCM, is looking at the role of arts and culture in Chinatown with Virginia Chomitz, PhD, MS, Associate Professor of PHCM and Susan Koch-Weser, ScM, ScD, Assistant Professor of PHCM in collaboration with the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, which just opened the first Asian American arts center in the region. Rubin is also teaching a new field course that examines place-based public health in Chinatown. She is the Board President of the Friends of the Chinatown Library, a group that has been advocating since 2001 to bring a branch library back to Chinatown.

Alice Tang, PhD, ScM, Associate Professor of PHCM has been leading a global consortium over the last three years to determine a standardized cutoff for mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) to screen adolescent and adults for undernutrition globally. She has received a third round of funding from USAID’s Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance (FANTA) project to disseminate the findings from this body of work.

Addressing Racial and Ethnic Disparities to Improve Low Birthweight for Minority Women

by Brittany Carlson, MPH Candidate ‘18

Birthweight is an important predictor of infant health, development, and mortality. Those born with low or very low birthweight are more susceptible to health complications during infancy and are more likely to develop chronic conditions later on in life.1 Data has shown that babies born with low birthweight (less than 5 pounds 8 ounces) are at higher risk of infant mortality, with risk in very low birthweight (3 pounds 5 ounces) babies being more than 100 times greater than those born at a normal birthweight.2 Prior analyses have also noted significant racial disparities in birthweight, infant health, and outcomes.3

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified low birthweight as a public health concern, suggesting 15.5% of all births to be of low birthweight.4 Although more prevalent in developing countries, the rate of low birthweight across the United States varies from approximately 5.9% to 11.3%.5 In Massachusetts, 7.7% of births in 2015 and 7.5% of births in 2016 were to low birthweight babies.5,6 While the overall rate of low birthweight was 8.6% in the Greater Boston area in 2015, the rate was 15% for women seeking care at DotHouse Health, a federally qualified health center in Dorchester. Despite several changes implemented by the health center to improve prenatal care and maternal screening, DotHouse Health has continued to see a higher incidence of low birthweight babies born to non-white women.

I conducted my Applied Learning Experience (ALE) at DotHouse under the direction of Quyen Pham, Quality and Reporting Coordinator. The project was aimed at identifying the risk factors that contribute to higher incidences of low birthweight babies, as well as identifying associations between race and/or ethnicity and birthweight. The project was completed through a comprehensive literature review of risk factors and low birthweight, patient chart reviews, observation studies, and key informant interviews. Presence of maternal risk factors, age at pregnancy, gestational age, and weight at birth were collected from chart reviews and diagnosis codes applied to prenatal visits. Differences in proportions and means were calculated to compare risk factors among different race and ethnic groups. A logistic regression was also conducted to identify associations between several risk factors and the odds of having a low birthweight baby.

Similar to prior studies, the findings of the analysis identified smoking and gestational age to be the most significant risk factors associated with low birthweight among those receiving care at DotHouse. Although additional risk factors were found to increase risk, no other significant associations were identified. The findings of the analysis and discussions with key informants were utilized to make suggestions to the health center on how to improve prenatal care and birthweight.

Although more research is needed to better gauge the association of low birthweight and stressors in patients receiving care at DotHouse Health, the initial findings of the study highlighted several areas for improvement. Recommendations were made to the staff to better screen for stressors and the effect of socioeconomic status on pregnancy, emphasize smoking cessation early on in family planning and prenatal care, and utilize case management. With these recommendations and a better understanding of stressors on the population, DotHouse Health can implement changes that can reduce the incidence of low birthweight babies.

While working on my ALE at DotHouse I had the opportunity to meet and discuss prenatal care and birthweight with several members of the Women’s Health team, as well as create a dataset to analyze. Through this process I learned a lot about collaborating with staff, being flexible and open to changes, and applying the skills I developed while studying at Tufts to a real-world problem. Although the findings of my project were not enough to eliminate the issue, it is rewarding to know that the work I completed provided the staff with a better understanding of the risk factors driving low birthweight incidence and generated new ideas for further research. Linda Hudson, ScD, MSPH, Assistant Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine was instrumental in assisting me in developing and completing this project and Kenneth Chui, PhD, MPH, MS, Assistant Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine in helping me with the analysis.

1. http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/low-birthweight-in-newborns/symptoms-and-causes
2. Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Osterman MJK, et al. Births: Final data for 2013. National vital statistics reports; vol 64 no 1. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.
3. Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Osterman MJK, et al. Births: Final data for 2014. National vital statistics reports; vol 64 no 12. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.
4. United Nations Children’s Fund and World Health Organization, Low Birthweight: Country, regional and global estimates. UNICEF, New York, 2004.
5. Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Osterman MJK, et al. Births: Final data for 2015. National vital statistics report; vol 66, no 1. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2017.
6. http://www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/2015-annualreport/measure/birthweight/state/MA

Welcome New Faculty: Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, PhD, MPH

by Donald Clermont, MPH candidate ‘18

Tufts welcomes a new professor, Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, PhD, MPH, who recently joined the faculty of the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine after teaching for five years at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Dr. Amutah-Onukagha says she is excited about being in such a diverse and exciting city as Boston and that she is looking forward to eating a lot of lobster rolls in the summer.

Dr. Amutah-Onukagha’s background in public health goes back to her undergraduate studies at Rutgers University where she received a BS in Public Health alongside a BA in African Studies, for which she wrote her thesis on the role of African American women in the civil rights movement. Speaking on the uncommon combination of degrees, she says “It informed my health disparities work as a public health practitioner because I got to know the historical context of inequity, and the lines between that history and public health are not as disparate as they may seem.”

She then went on to receive her MPH from George Washington University and her PhD in Maternal and Child Health from the University of Maryland where her dissertation focused on the social determinants of health and racial and ethnic predictors of infant mortality in Washington D.C. After receiving her PhD, she received a prestigious Kellogg Post-doctoral Fellowship at Morgan State University where she focused on community-based participatory research and health disparities. When asked why she chose to apply for a faculty position at Tufts, Dr. Amutah-Onukagha says, “Tufts has a commitment to health equity and to improving and increasing their capacity to educate around the social determinants of health. Any school or department that recognizes that they need to grow and devotes systematic resources to make that happen, I am happy to be a part of that.”

At Montclair State University, Dr. Amutah-Onukagha served on the social justice conference planning committee which hosted their first ever social justice public health conference. “I think we could do more in the realm of social justice and there is a lot of opportunity for that at a place like Tufts,” she says, “if we are having a conversation in public health and we are not including social justice, we are not having the right conversation.” Dr. Amutah-Onukagha also recently served as the president of the Society for the Analysis of African American Public Health Issues (SAAPHI) for six years. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, SAAPHI was founded as an offshoot of the American Public Health Association to promote minority leadership within the association and more broadly in public health. During her term, Dr. Amutah-Onukagha focused on implementing more rigorous standards as well as increasing the role of students in the society.

Among other things, Dr. Amutah-Onukagha hopes to continue work on two programs she pioneered at Montclair State University called project THANKS (Turning HIV/AIDs into New Knowledge for Sisters) and project DASH (Divas Against the Spread of HIV/AIDS). Project THANKS is a seven-week intervention for HIV+ women with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or substance use disorder that aims to increase HIV medication adherence. She is currently working on a mobile app for the THANKS program and conducting focus groups to gain insights into how to further tailor THANKS for the target population. Project DASH is a pilot exploration through interviews of the relationship between African American HIV+ mothers and their HIV- adolescent daughters in the context of their HIV status. The study focuses on an exceptional potential opportunity to address HIV risk and prevention.

Dr. Amutah-Onukagha is meeting with leaders of community-based organizations in Boston with an eye to developing the relationships she needs to continue her work. She is also looking forward to teaching and advising students. “I am very interested in mentoring students. I love working with students and I love what I do.” With such a distinguished academic background and a keen dedication to health equity, there is no doubt that Dr. Amutah-Onukagha will help improve the conditions of those around her and maintain Tufts University’s status as a leader in public health.

PHPD Programs Dean’s Message

This fall’s Dean’s letter is an open letter to our alumni, as I was struck by the myriad ways they positively impact our programs. I hope faculty, staff, students and other readers will “listen in.”

Dear Alumni:

It is late afternoon on a crisp fall day in Boston, closing in the Thanksgiving break. A tentative knock at the door of the office. “Hello? Come in.” Wide smiles on both faculty and alumnus’ faces. A hug, perhaps. Then animated exchanges– of career developments, education updates, co-worker challenges, weddings, babies. The unannounced visit of a former student, one of many gifts our alumni bestow upon us as Tufts faculty.

The personal part is satisfying and gratifying— knowing we’ve made enough of difference to warrant a visit, a request for advice, and the like. We are your supporters, counselors, cheerleaders and letters of reference writers.

As program faculty, our opportunity for direct impact on you as students varies with the length our programs: it is as short as one year for many— or as long as 4 or 5 for our MD/MPH, MD/MBA or DrPH students. Some of you are early in your careers, others are mid-career— some of you come to our programs to re-invent yourselves professionally.
Your opportunity to impact us is deep and wide. As alumni you are vital to applied programs like ours. You represent an important links to the public health and health care world. We want to know: What courses do you rely on? Which textbooks or assigned readings do you go back to? What skills acquired in your program are fundamental to your continued growth and success? What do you wish you’d learned or learned more of? You are our eyes and ears on how best to stay relevant, how we should evolve, in what areas we should grow.

So many contributions. You participate as preceptors for our students, and are among our most sought after, because you share Tufts values, our passion to advance health and create change. You serve as unparalleled nodes in career networks for other public health and professional degree programs’ grads.

As Admissions Ambassadors, you meet with prospective students— they often prefer to speak with you over our program faculty to understand what the program is really like. You are also our informal ambassadors as you go about your professional work and service activities. Because in holding a Tufts degree, your many accomplishments post-Tufts reflect well upon us as an institution.

And, of course, the classic way to be involved as an alumnus is to participate as an officer of the Tufts Public Health and Professional Degree Programs Alumni Association or as an attendee at their events. Earlier this fall, their Student/Alumni Networking Event was led by alumni Lisa Paradis, MPH ‘09 and Lisa Schmerling, MPH ‘14—by all reports one of the most successful such events to date.

If you’re reading this missive and thinking you’d like to get more involved— please contact us. In fact, contact me! (aviva.must@tufts.edu)— I’d love to help you find ways to be more involved.

As always,
Good wishes and good health!

Dean Aviva Must

Climate Change and Public Health

by Donald Clermont, MPH candidate ‘18

As Puerto Rico and Texas continue to recover from hurricanes Maria and Harvey, the public health effects of climate change are undeniable. Puerto Rico is still suffering from contaminated water supplies and damaged infrastructure and Houston medical practices are struggling to reopen.1 As U.S. communities experience higher temperatures and recover from increasingly frequent natural disasters, public health practitioners play a vital role in mitigating health effects of climate change.

Rising sea-levels and more frequent storms lead to increased flooding which causes a myriad of health issues, such as exposure to molds and chemicals and exacerbation of chronic conditions and mental health problems.2 While flooding is a growing concern for all coastal communities, more affluent cities such as Houston and Miami have more resources to deal with natural disasters and are pioneering successful drainage systems that increase flood-resistance. In contrast, poorer communities and nations may not have the means to undertake similar projects. “Climate change is going to affect people in poorer countries the most. For example, Bangladesh is at sea-level and very poor and they’re going to get swamped,” says Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine Doug Brugge, PhD, MS. This is also true for U.S. communities such as Puerto Rico, which was in an economic crisis at the time of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Rising temperatures also affect ecosystems and change the pattern of spread of infectious disease. “As temperatures change, habitats move from one location to another and infectious diseases that are spread by mosquitos may reach the southern United States that didn’t before,” says Brugge. Bacterial water contamination can also result from rising temperatures and the changing chemical composition of freshwater sources. It has been estimated that the drinking water reservoirs for 30 to 48 million Americans could be periodically contaminated by toxic algae.3 In Massachusetts, advisories for toxic cyanobacteria blooms have been issued for waters throughout the state, and this past summer several ponds in Cape Cod were closed due to contamination. According to Michael Celona of the Toxicology Program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Massachusetts had 50% more of these blooms than the previous summer.4

As long as the U.S. remains the only country to disavow the Paris Climate Accord, chances of new and innovative federal policies to mitigate climate change seem grim. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to develop recommendations and sponsor local public health research in the context of climate change. This is important because state and local governments play a vital role in managing public health under current climate conditions and tailoring initiatives to the needs of their community. “Local initiatives can help with energy conservation, diminish fossil fuel use, and use more green energy,” says Assistant Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine Beth Rosenberg, ScD, MPH. “Nothing is happening at the federal level so the local and state levels are all the more important. It’s where things are going to happen.”

However, local initiatives also need to be coordinated with broader efforts. “When doing local work it is important to attempt to connect it to the larger national and international issues. Some ways to do this might include adding networking, education or advocacy that could have a broader impact by raising awareness and affecting public sentiment,” says Brugge.

With funding from the CDC, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has been working to monitor the public health effects of harmful algae blooms, address indoor air quality, and conduct heat stress vulnerability assessments throughout the state.5 Local academic institutions are also working to understand and mitigate climate change effects on public health. Tufts’ own Environmental Engineering Professor Steve Chapra led a group of researchers to develop an innovative modeling framework to predict climate change’s effect on cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms in the U.S. According to their model, the greatest increase in these harmful blooms will be in the Northeast region of the U.S.6 Speaking on the public health effects of climate change, Chapra says “The primary impact will be the increased occurrence of freshwater harmful algal blooms. This is due to the fact that the primary freshwater toxic algae, cyanobacteria or “bluegreen” algae, thrive at higher water temperatures. At various stages of their life cycles, these organisms produce neurotoxins and hepatotoxins that can cause illness and even death to mammals, including humans, that consume the contaminated water.”

Local government and non-government organizations must not only deal with climate-related public health issues, but address the root causes of climate change. In 2014, Tufts University Board of Trustees decided not to divest its endowment from fossil fuels due to cost. However, they did say that the issue should remain open for discussion. They have since established a Sustainability Fund, the income of which will be used for sustainability programming in academics and university operations.78 Given the current politics in the federal government, coordinated state and local initiatives hold a vital position in promoting clean energy and public health in a changing climate.

  1. http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/article/Medical-practices-still-recovering-from-Harvey-12312179.php
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6637e1.htm
  3. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.est.7b01498
  4. http://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20170811/barnstable-ponds-tested-for-toxic-algae-blooms
  5. http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/environmental-health/exposure-topics/public-health-implications-of-climate-change.html
  6. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.est.7b01498
  7. FAQs regarding possible divestment from fossil fuels/ recent divestment history
  8. http://now.tufts.edu/articles/tufts-launches-sustainability-fund