Dr. Milton Terris was an outspoken advocate for progressive Public Health Policy. See this article about him here. But briefly, ‘throughout his career, Terris was always an active and dedicated member of American Public Health Association (APHA): he served as secretary of APHA’s Medical Care Section from 1948 to 1952, a member of the section’s council from 1952 to 1959, a member of the APHA Executive Board from 1958 to 1964, and president in 1966 and 1967.’
I came across some of the papers he wrote last month while running through the rabbit hole that is the archives of the American Journal of Public Health. I am a lover of history and nothing fascinates me more than the history of Public Health, the realization that this field is a circle that keeps turning around it’s axis, and in numerous occasions, falling short on its promise. Dr. Milton Terris was speaking about this some 30-50 years ago, hence my obsession today about one article I saw that complied his last words. They are powerful. Very apt for today and for all of us committed to serving the public and not ourselves. To think that all the thoughts in my head about putting the public first has once been echoed in the past makes our field exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Hence why I remain committed to learning the past in hopes that it will allow me and my team to understand better the crisis we find ourselves in today. So allow me to share through verses, the last words of Dr. Milton Terris. I hope they light a fire necessary within you to truly remain committed to serving the public in public health.
For the public, we have remained indefinitely in our ivory towers that have now crumbled all around us and those we serve. We remained without coalitions, a citizens coalition, made up of organized and unorganized workers, farmers, professionals, and other middle class citizens; women, Blacks, Hispanics, youths, senior citizens, and other minorities-in short, the majority of the people of our nation, who can and will assure that the principle that health is a human right, and not a privilege, will be realized for all.
We remained in the era of rampant selfism that served only ourselves and not the public we purport to serve. We remained committed to publications and conferences and not the fullest possible commitment, dedication and leadership to the public who have no access to our publications or conferences. We remained in a siloed pubic health agenda that continues to fail to ensure a peaceful, just, and hopeful society for all. We remained in privilege mode and not in humanity mode that ensures that health is a human right for all the public we serve. We remained in crocodile tears mode too rather than taking serious action to end racism, poverty and everything else working against the public we serve. We remained in lip service mode to prevention rather than advocating in deed and in word for a standard of living adequate for the maintenance of health.
We remained on the road to general principles and theoretical frameworks as if they are enough and will get us on the road that requires political will and moral courage to enact legislative measures on health for all the public we serve. We remained in recommendations mode too as if our public health crisis will go away with our evidence based recommendations rather than thoughtful and spirited analysis of the causes of the crisis and the definite and effective action to reduce their impact. We remained with our feet in clay rather than intensify our work on the defense of the public we choose to serve. But above all, we remain a generation whose discoveries are not translated into practice for the welfare of humanity in the shortest possible time, who continue to fail to create a new golden age that centers the public in everything about their health.