Dr. Gerberding spent more than 6 years as a global health diplomat, traveling to 32 countries to promote health, encourage prevention of disease, and motivate preparedness for new threats. These travels introduced her to remarkable women in some of the most challenging regions of the world. Their stories often begin with a description of the countless hours spent, day after day, locating water, hauling water, cooking with water, and washing in water. The never-ending quest for water, and the lack of basic sanitation, keeps these women on a treadmill of poverty and threatens their children’s survival. Nevertheless, in villages across the world, many are creating innovative solutions for themselves and hope for their children. The stories of their struggles to overcome thirst, poor hygiene, and lack of access to education not only incite outrage at their circumstances, but also inspire awe of their determination to survive and thrive. Dr. Gerberding uses these stories to inform the audience about two of the most challenging root causes of extreme poverty – lack of water and the profound socio-economic suppression of women. She also inspires a hopeful view of how our nation’s health development investments can better support sustainable solutions. These perspectives are timely, as the United States debates “smart power,” and the role of development and health diplomacy in our national strategy.
In her 7 years as a senior leader at CDC, Dr. Gerberding was at the helm of the public health response to more than 40 domestic or international emergencies. Beginning with the terrorist and anthrax attacks in 2001, her tenure encompassed complex outbreaks and crises (including SARS, monkey pox, avian influenza, staphylococcal infections, and numerous food safety issues) as well as natural disasters (like the Asian tsunami, hurricanes, floods, power outages, and similar threats to health). Each of these events had far-reaching social, health, economic, and sometimes national security consequences. Dr. Gerberding makes a strong case that now is not the time for complacency; changing climate, global financial crises, and the expanded population of vulnerable groups predispose people everywhere to ongoing global threats. Smart organization will prioritize steps to ensure their resilience and prepare for natural disasters, global infectious disease outbreaks, and other emergencies. Dr. Gerberding shares her assessment of current risks, the key lessons learned from previous emergency responses, and a short list of health protection priorities to help government agencies, business leaders, non-profit organizations, and families everywhere remain a resilient as possible, whatever new threat emerges.
Americans spend more on health care than other nation, but we are far from the healthiest. Unless we take effective action, our children will be the first generation to have shorter expected life spans than their parents. We have invested far too little on protecting our health. As a result, families, governments, and businesses are paying the high price of the epidemic of chronic illnesses that require expensive treatments and add to our economic crises. As the director of CDC, the nation’s frontline of health protection, Dr. Gerberding championed private-public partnerships that can help business leaders translate prevention science into best practices to improve health and productivity, lower health care costs, and contribute to sustainable health among employees, their families and communities in which they live. Dr. Gerberding shares her insights and experience with successful partnerships, the state-of-the-science for health protection and disease prevention in the private sector, and health protection successes culled from a variety of businesses. She also provides compelling arguments for why business leaders should join other stakeholders to put health, not just health care, at the center of the policy debate on health system transformation, and help America become the healthiest nation.