Things That Matter - The heights by great men reached and kept

“The heights by great men reached and kept Were not attained by sudden flight, But they, while their companions slept, Were toiling upward in the night.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

The University of the West Indies is about to celebrate the contribution of our retiring Chancellor, Professor Sir George Alleyne. This is, in an official, calendar sense, the end of an era, since Sir George entered the fledgling University College of the West Indies in 1951 to study medicine, in the third year of our existence. In those 66 years he has seen the University grow from a temporary refugee camp-site for Gibraltar and Jewish refugees in World War II – a campus of wooden huts on an abandoned sugar estate, and a first intake of 33 medical students – to an internationally renowned multi-campus university with some 60 000 students. It has produced 18 current or past Caribbean Heads of Government, cutting edge medical research, and is, in the words of past Vice Chancellor Professor Nigel Harris, “first port of call for Caribbean information and research”.

Sir George Alleyne, by choosing UWI over the option of Cambridge or Edinburgh, the traditional medical schools for ambitious Barbadians, confirmed a life-long commitment to the development of the Caribbean – the British West Indies in those old colonial days, 15 years before Independence. And his long and legendary career has been divided into three parts – first his career at UWI, from Gold Medal student to leading research scientist, to Professor and Head of the Department of Medicine at forty. The second or middle part of his career was spent at the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), first as Chief of Research in 1980, until he retired after two terms as Director, in 2003. In that same year, fourteen years ago, he began his equally distinguished regime as Chancellor of the UWI.

This column is really about his contribution to health in the Caribbean and the Americas. It’s been his passion for sixty-six years, and the evolution of his thinking from bright eyed medical student, through cutting edge research to progressive public health leader, has been eloquently covered in his many speeches all over the hemisphere. And the most cogent and important of these speeches have been gathered together in a splendid book “Health & Development in our Time”, published by Ian Randle Publishers of Jamaica. I had the privilege and pleasure of editing, and it was a rewarding task, to share at first hand the insights of a progressive public health visionary, and following the evolution of his thinking while at the head of the powerful hemispheric health agency, PAHO.

His emphasis has always been on the essential principle of equity, by which he explains in his preface that there can be no essential right to health as a state of being, but emphasising that the justifiable rights are the sanitary and social measures that allow persons to enjoy health. In other words, our goal should be “Health CARE for all”. And he’s at pains to point out that health is a social science. Read more

Source: Barbados Advocate