Remembering Dean Emeritus Allan Rosenfield, MD

From At the Frontline

Allan Rosenfield, MD, built a legacy of inspired leadership in the field of public health. He brought his considerable intellect, passion, courage, and persistence to addressing the public health concerns that plague all vulnerable populations around the globe. Dr. Rosenfield died on October 12, 2008 after being diagnosed in late 2005 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” He was 75 years old.

Dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health for 22 years, and an obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Rosenfield is renowned for his work on women’s reproductive health and human rights, innovative family planning studies, strategies to address the tragedy of maternal deaths in poor countries, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, both domestically and globally.

His broad vision to improve women’s health includes groundbreaking work in areas such as training non-medical personnel in prescribing contraceptives; averting maternal mortality and morbidity from pregnancy-related complications; and care and treatment for HIV-infected women and children in resource-limited settings globally.

Growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts, Allan Rosenfield got his introduction to the medical profession from his father, Dr. Harold Rosenfield, a successful Boston obstetrician-gynecologist. He earned his BA in biochemistry from Harvard College in 1955 and his MD from Columbia University’s College of Physicians & Surgeons in 1959.

Dr. Rosenfield’s work in Thailand in the 1960s with the Population Council serving as an advisor to the Thai Ministry of Public Health on reproductive and maternal and child health, proved to be a turning point in his career. In a country where the average family had seven children and the population growth rate was 3.3%, his work evolved into a large-scale project to develop a national family planning program. In an effort to address women’s limited access to contraception—and the shortage of physicians—he pushed for the training of auxiliary midwives to prescribe birth control pills. Thanks in part to his pioneering efforts, by the year 2000, these figures had dropped to 1.6 children per family and a 0.8% growth rate.

In 1975, Columbia University recruited Dr. Rosenfield as a professor of Public Health and Ob/Gyn and to head the newly named Center for Population and Family Health at the University’s School of Public Health. While Dr. Rosenfield took steps to strengthen the Center’s global programs, he simultaneously worked to implement family planning and reproductive health service programs in the School’s own backyard of Northern Manhattan. With colleague Judith Jones, Dr. Rosenfield built the Center’s community-based programs including the Young Adult Clinic, an evening clinic for adolescent women; the pioneering Young Men’s Clinic; and the innovative school-based clinics located in intermediate and high schools throughout Upper Manhattan.

In 1986, the same year that Dr. Rosenfield was appointed Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Rosenfield and colleague Dr. Deborah Maine co-authored a paper on maternal mortality that posed the question, “Where is the M in MCH (Maternal and Child Health)?” Published in The Lancet, it called attention to the crisis in women’s health where providers focused on the health of children at the expense of the health, and too often, lives of women. This seminal paper spawned a movement that galvanized the attention of international health groups and policy makers to focus on poor maternal health, and led to the Safe Motherhood Initiative. Dr. Rosenfield’s continued efforts to improve women’s access to emergency obstetric care led to the involvement of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which awarded the Mailman School $50 million in 1999 to create the Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program (AMDD). At the time, it was the largest grant in Columbia University’s history. AMDD, the only global effort of its kind, developed and supports more than 85 safe motherhood initiatives in over 50 countries around the world.

In the late 1990s, as the HIV/AIDS pandemic raged out of control, prevention of mother-to-child transmission (pMTCT) of the virus was focused on saving babies’ lives, but treatment was not provided to the mother. Dr. Rosenfield was one of the first leaders in the field to speak out about this critical problem, and in 2000, he presented another seminal paper, “Where is the M in pMTCT?” at the World AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa. Once again, he energized the international community to action. With support from nine private foundations, he and colleagues created the MTCT-Plus Intiative, a global, family-based program focused on comprehensive care and treatment for mothers and children. In 2004, under the leadership of Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, and with a $125 million grant from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Mailman School expanded its involvement in AIDS care and treatment and created its International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs. To date, the programs developed under the innovative model have enrolled more than 500,000 people.

Allan Rosenfield’s appointment as dean marked the beginning of an unprecedented period of growth and recognition for Columbia’s School of Public Health. With steady determination, he harnessed the School’s potential and transformed what was once a small department into one of the preeminent schools of public health in the country. During his tenure, the School’s budget increased from $12 million in 1986 to $161 million, and the endowment soared from $2 million to $86 million. A true cornerstone of the School’s growth during Dr. Rosenfield’s tenure was the unprecedented $33 million gift from the Joseph L. Mailman Foundation in 1998.

Dr. Rosenfield served as national chair of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, bringing attention to the field of maternal mortality, stimulating new programs and new thinking to the issues of family planning and maternal/child health. For 10 years Dr. Rosenfield served as chair of New York State’s AIDS Advisory Council, where he made lasting achievements in guiding New York’s policies and procedures regarding HIV and AIDS.

He was also chair of the Program Board of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), a member of the boards of the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Packard Foundation, and served on the boards and committees of many other non-profit and governmental organizations.

He is survived by his wife Clare, son Paul and daughter-in-law Rachel, daughter Jill and son-in-law Marc Baker, and five grandchildren, Mayaan, Yonah, Elisha, Meital, and Maor.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Allan Rosenfield Fund, Mailman School of Public Health, 722 W. 168th St., 14th Fl, NY, NY 10032 or

For more information about the life and career of Allan rosenfield:
A Legacy of Leadership in Public Health: A Tribute to Allan Rosenfield.

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