November 7, 2008

Power of one can impact global health: Frist

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Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, M.D., spoke at Vanderbilt as part of the School of Nursing’s Centennial Lecture Series. (photo by Joe Howell)

Power of one can impact global health: Frist

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, M.D., talked about the impact individuals can make on the global health care scene during the second installment of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Centennial Lecture Series last week at Wilson Hall.

Frist, former U.S. Senate Majority leader and incoming Owen School of Management and School of Medicine professor, spends about a third of his time working on various international medical mission projects, which have taken him to Russia, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Mozambique.

It started when Frist was at Stanford University and met Richard Furman, M.D., who encouraged him to get involved.

That one interaction started him down a path that has taken him out of the high-tech atmosphere of medical centers such as Vanderbilt, where he practiced for 10 years, and into more austere environments where the need is the greatest.

“You can do anything with fishing line, a needle, a knife and ketamine,” he said.

Frist detailed the last 20 years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic as an example of a disease that connects the world globally and calls for a united prevention effort.

On the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1996, Frist said that “HIV/AIDS is the greatest moral, humanitarian and public health issue in our lifetime,” and helped launch the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

While retrovirals are helping millions, he said, “For every one person retreating from the disease, there are four more new people coming in.”

Frist said that two-thirds of all deaths in developing countries are preventable and discussed a variety of ways individuals and groups can get involved.

He strongly believes nursing and medical students should spend at least one month working in health care in a developing country.

On one end of the spectrum, he encouraged audience members to seek out organizations such as the Millenium Group to make investments in Third World countries that meet a variety of requirements that ensure funds will indeed go to providing health care to individuals.

On a smaller level, he suggested people consider participating in “Knit One, Save One,” a grassroots effort to knit caps for newborns in Africa, since a significant number of babies die due to hyperthermia.

“As a national policymaker and an international health care provider, Sen. Frist brings a thought provoking perspective to this crucial and universal issue,” said Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., dean of the School of Nursing.