Public Health Hero: Kirk Smith

Kirk Smith, PhD, MPH, Professor of Global Environmental Health and Director of the Global Health and Environment Program, University of California Berkeley School of Public Health

Kirk Smith is a leading researcher in global health, best known for his work on environmental and health issues in developing countries. Smith focuses his studies on those issues which are causing a major burden to health and the climate as a result of air pollution from household energy use. "Our investment in prevention and research is an investment in our nation. A strong economy, an educated society, a competitive workforce... all depend on healthy people, the result of our knowledge of prevention. If we rely on treatment without an investment in prevention, then we have failed."

Kirk Smith, PhD, MPH, is a leading global health researcher who studies the effects of exposures to air pollutants, particularly in rural, indoor settings in developing countries where there is a high level of exposure from burning fuels such as coal. This is now being identified as a major source of health concern in developing countries, especially among women and children who are the most vulnerable groups for higher pollution exposure. Smith has shown this exposure to air pollutants is causing adverse birth outcomes, cognitive learning impairments, and is one of the major causes of childhood pneumonia, a leading cause of death for children globally, and women are now also at an increased risk associated with tuberculosis, heart disease and chronic lung disease as a result. Indoor fuel burning is also contributing further to the growing problem of climate change.

Smith wants the U.S. to know that this information is critical to our health as well. "Americans are being constantly exposed to these pollutants as well, and we need to understand the health effects such exposure is having and prioritize our response instead of waiting until the damage if far worse. This is a humanitarian issue we all must be concerned with. We want a sustainable planet, and that is not achievable with 9 million children dying and half a million women dying during childbirth each year. Our investment in prevention research must be made in order to do the humane thing of preventing malnutrition and air pollution so children don't contract pneumonia in the first place."

Smith would like to see the U.S. increase its investment in research and its commitment to better health in order to better promote international development and access for reproductive services for women. "We cannot continue to turn our head the other way from this serious issue. It's a wondrous thing how we don't seem to respond to millions of people dying - somewhere else from mundane things."

The U.S. must nurture and sustain its investment in research, because health enables everything. A strong economy, an educated society, a competitive workforce, better science and arts... all depend on healthy people, the result of our knowledge of prevention. We need to invest in prevention locally and globally, which is cheaper, kinder and less traumatic than treatment.

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