Message from the Regional Dean

Today we face rapid social change, migration, economic pressures and minority health disparities. We also have an aging population and rapid rise in the cost of ever more sophisticated medical treatment. Prevention of illness is therefore the key to our future. Prevention, the essence of public health, is the application of research, education and communication to effect those changes in peoples’ lives that can result in prevention of illness, and overall improvement in health and well-being. Nearly three decades of Public health experience on five continents have taught me that the changes most effective in preventing illness and improving health are often firmly rooted in the local community.

What else do we face today? Exploding urban densities, new infectious diseases, sedentary habits, violent media images, more cars, more medications, more air travel, are all creating new opportunities for physical disease and deterioration in mental health. Compounded by crowding and poverty in many communities, these pressures effect changes in the images young people have of themselves. The rapid and palpable impact on our planet of environmental degradation is belatedly being understood. The terrible rise in terrorism will have profound impact on public health through several mechanisms: bereavement, fear and anxiety, direct threats of violence, and biological and chemical warfare. Our challenge is to comprehend the old, anticipate the new, and shape our own future rather than let it be shaped for us in ways we would not wish.

In the Rio Grande Valley, we have most of these challenges. They take on a more substantial economic importance than other areas because of the relative poverty of our area. For example, the estimated cost of medical care, based on national averages, and on prevalence of disease in the LRGV, for diabetes, obesity and cancer is 11.2% of the LRGV per capita income, whereas nationally the cost is only about 4.4%. Because our average income is half the national average, and because we have high rates of disease but medical costs are the same as elsewhere, the relative economic burden of these three conditions in the LRGV is 2.5 times that of the national burden. These figures bring home the economic opportunity of a preventive strategy in the LRGV. Basically, we cannot afford not to prevent disease.

The UT School of Public Health has been established to foster the prevention of disease and injury in the community by becoming an integral part of that community. This means working with organizations to develop common goals and the capacity to effect changes. We need to identify and conduct research on key issues in the community, and to communicate information and effective educational messages to the community at large. Since no community can be stronger than its most vulnerable members, we must pay particular attention to the marginal and disadvantaged. Nevertheless, public health and disease prevention is not just for the poor, it is for everyone. In this School, by participating in this effort, you can be part of a brighter future.

Sincerely,

Joseph B. McCormick, MD
Regional Dean, Brownsville Regional Campus