Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Public Health Needs a Rockstar: Paging Dr. Gupta for Surgeon General

As you may have heard by now, Obama might be seriously considering Sanjay Gupta of CNN to be the US Surgeon General. Two good friends had an initially negative reaction to this – “but he is just another TV anchor!”. Well Gupta is much more than that. In addition to his proflic duties as a medical correspondent for CNN where has done in-depth assignments on Iraq and Katrina, he practices surgery on a weekly basis, is the associate chief of neurosurgery at a major university, has traveled the country and the world witnessing first hand major health issues giving him a global sensibility. Also along with his government experience ( as a White House fellow), he knows how to reach mass audiences and will be a media savvy.  Clearly he can handle high pressure situations and his celebrity is a huge plus (how many people can remember the name of the last or current surgeon general or know of any significant issues they have tackled?).

For better or worse we are already far down the path of celebrity endorsed causes (what impact this has, I really don’t know, but it certainly commands some attention in a world with lots of noise and information overload). We have Bono, Bill Gates, and Bill Clinton – all rockstars for global health. Even NextBillion is advocating for rockstars in public health, which I do agree with. Sanjay Gupta is extremely smart and talented and can be a celebrity for public health on a national scale. And actually much more than a rockstar, public health in this country and globally needs an ambassador, a champion and an activist. This pick is good for both domestic and global health, and the two have never been so intertwined (not just with the migration of infectious diseases across borders but also with the explosion in chronic disease (and see here Jan 2009)  in developing countries and issues like brain drain). You would have someone who has appeal beyond the experts and policy wonks, he has strong credibility with the American public. As such, this is a great media strategy by the Obama team – they have found someone who is well known, a media professional (and as some criticize – a propaganda machine), and can deliver complex health policy messages.

As with any candidate there are drawbacks and deficiencies, with Gupta, these will all come out in due time. I understand that some in public health circles and others will consider this pick to be more style than substance, but my main point is that is time for us to think creatively beyond our traditional notions and perhaps take a risk with someone who doesn’t have a strong public health background, but who has the potential to have a major positive impact.  Gupta is someone who can link both local and global health causes together and that is rare and signficant skill. The envirionmental movement over the last decade has made tremendous strides in melting the division and lines between local and global into something that can be grasped at all levels and into something where people understand the connection. Granted health is a very different animal, but as a community and movement we are light years behind the environmental folks – perhaps Gupta helps to push this in another way.

Other sources:

- Krugman on the Trouble with Sanjay Gupta, link
- See Abel and Jake over at Science Blogs on their differing views
- WSJ health blog on Gupta, link
- Read the comments over at Daily Kos, link
- Huff Post on Gupta, link
- Questions about Gupta at KevinMD, link

Written by Aman

January 6, 2009 at 11:43 pm

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  1. [...] Ezra Klein calls him “the smiling face of America’s medical establishment.” Aman at Technology, Health & Development argues that this kind of celebrity will allow Gupta to have an impact: And actually much more than [...]

  2. [...] THDblog: The Technology, Health and Development blog says, “Public health needs a rock star.” [...]


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