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Carl E. Taylor 1916-2010

Feb 04, 2010

Carl E. Taylor, MD, DrPH, founder of the academic discipline of international health, a man of spiritual conviction, who dedicated his life to the well-being of the world's marginalized people, died on February 4, 2010 from prostate cancer. He was 93. The reach of his life was extraordinary, personally working in over 70 countries and teaching students from more than 100 countries. He was sharing this near century-long perspective with his students up until a week before his death.

“With an eight-decade long career in international health, he is beloved by thousands of students and colleagues around the world,” said Robert S. Lawrence, MD, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “His stories of adventure and service enabled them to believe that they too could create just and lasting change. Carl has been an inspiration, role model, and mentor for me for more than 20 years. I especially cherish the privilege I have had since moving to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 1995 to benefit from Carl's wisdom, warmth, and compassion as he served selflessly to help organize the Center for a Livable Future, served on our faculty advisory board since its inception, and then generously invited me to join him in helping with the Case Studies in Primary Healthcare course. I shall forever be indebted to him for his friendship and guidance.”

Taylor was born in the Indian Himalaya to medical missionaries. His career began at age seven as a pharmacist assistant in his parents’ oxcart-based clinic in the Indian jungles. His childhood was spent in those jungles, then earning his medical degree from Harvard. (His medical school application opened with, “My study of anatomy began dissecting a tiger to see where the food went….”) Following medical school, he completed his residency at Gorgas Memorial Hospital in Panama where he married his wife of 58 years, the late Mary Daniels Taylor who died in 2001, Professor Emerita of Education at Towson University.

Taylor returned to India In 1947 to direct the Fategarh Presbyterian Hospital, then lead a medical team through the deadly riots of 1947 during the partition of India and Pakistan. In 1949 he conducted the first health survey of Nepal, then the most closed country in Asia. Back at Harvard, he completed his MPH and his DrPH; his doctoral dissertation based on research that defined the synergy between nutrition and infection, a principle now part of the foundation of public health in low income countries. In 1952, he founded the department of preventive medicine at the Christian Medical College Ludhiana, the first such department in the developing world.

Taylor was the founding chair of the Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins in 1961. He was instrumental in designing the global agenda for primary health care in the 1960s and 1970s. Before it was widely embraced, he contributed research and advocacy that connected women’s empowerment and holistic community-based change.

Throughout his life, Taylor had a particular interest in health care reform, especially the integration of services. His research achievements were wide-ranging. The Narangwal Rural Health Research Project in northern India, which he led from 1960 to 1975, provided breakthrough understandings in the diagnosis and treatment of childhood pneumonia, neonatal tetanus, getting medical care to the villages, synergy of malnutrition and child mortality, understanding childhood diarrheal treatment, and community empowerment for equity in health.

In addition to his forty-eight years at Johns Hopkins, Taylor was China Representative for UNICEF from 1984 to 1987. From 1992 until his death he was Senior Advisor to Future Generations and more recently Future Generations Graduate School (where a professorship is endowed in his name). From 2004-2006 he was Afghanistan Country Director for Future Generations, leading field-based action using 400+ mosques as educational sites for Afghan women, then returning in 2008 to Afghanistan at age 92 to test hypotheses about how “women can in action groups solve the majority of their family health problems.”

Taylor was the primary World Health Organization consultant in preparing documents in 1978 for the Alma Ata World Conference on Primary Health Care. From 1957 through 1983 he advised WHO on a wide range of international health matters. In 1972, Taylor became the founding chair of the National Council for International Health, now known as the Global Health Council; as founding chair of the International Health Section of the American Public Health Association, he helped establish the World Federation of Public Health Associations.

Taylor published more than 190 peer-reviewed journal articles, books, chapters and policy monographs. In addition to his earned degrees, Taylor received honorary degrees from Muskingum College, Towson State University, China’s Tongji University, Peking Union Medical College, and Johns Hopkins University. In 1993, President Bill Clinton recognized him for "Sustained work to protect children around the world in especially difficult circumstances and a life-time commitment to community based primary care.”

Taylor is survived by his two brothers, John and Gordon, two sisters, Gladys and Margaret, three children, Daniel, Betsy, Henry, and nine grandchildren.