Timonium resident recognized for 50 years of service in international public health

For the Towson Times
“Dad felt the future was in public health. It's in my blood.”

When Henry Mosley was 3, Japan invaded China. His parents, Christian medical missionaries, fled the country where their son had been born. They believed they would return some day. They never did.

Instead, Mosley was raised throughout the United States, from Arkansas to Tennessee, Massachusetts to Los Angeles. He received his medical degree from the University of Oklahoma, then came to Baltimore for an internship at Johns Hopkins and a master's degree from Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"Dad felt the future was in public health. It's in my blood," said Mosley, whose 50-year career in international public health, particularly underdeveloped countries in Asia and Africa, have made him a missionary of sorts.

He hardly looks the part. On a blistering hot June day, you'd be hard pressed to envision the now 81-year-old Timonium resident sipping coffee in a local shop with combating high infant and maternal mortality in Bangladesh, teaching in Kenya and funding life-saving projects in Indonesia.

On Sunday June 28 at the annual conference of Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH), Mosley received the Christian International Health Champion Award for 2015. The award, established last year, recognized Mosley's contributions to global health from a Christian perspective.

"I was surprised" to receive the award, said Mosley, married for 59 years to Merrilyn, a retired nurse, the father of three adult sons and five grandchildren. They belong to Valley Baptist Church, in Timonium, where he has long been active on committees and Sunday school, and serves as a deacon.

Christian Connections for International Health was founded in 1987, a coalition of more than 150 Christian organizations along with individual members and affiliated non-Christian and government groups. Mosley, a member since its founding, is a former board member of CCIH.

Mosley spent his career at the Bloomberg School. He is semi-retired with the title of professor emeritus in the Population, Family and Reproductive Health and International Health departments. Twice chairman of the population department, he helped to establish the Johns Hopkins Institute for International Programs and co-founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Mosley chose to spend 14 years abroad, including eight in Bangladesh for the National Institutes of Health, three in Kenya for the Population Council and three in Indonesia for the Ford Foundation.

"I wanted to help solve their problems," he said.

According to Mosley, international public health programs have two components.

The first is educational. "There are a number of things ordinary people can do to protect their health and prevent disease," he said, citing washing hands, not smoking, eating safe food, drinking clean water and breastfeeding infants.

The second involves initiatives that develop and deliver inexpensive, practical and effective techniques. They can be low-tech such as mosquito netting or high-tech such as vaccines or, in Mosley's case, a rehydration solution to combat cholera in Bangladesh.

A major problem when he first went to that country, cholera can cause diarrhea, which can lead to deadly dehydration. "The only treatment then was IV fluids. But in poor, developing countries, there are no IV fluids, and plain water is not absorbed," he said.

Working with colleagues in a Bangladesh laboratory, Mosley developed a rehydration solution of water with glucose and salt that was drinkable and effective for cholera and diarrhea. "It saved hundreds of thousands of lives," he said.

Mosley was also involved in family planning initiatives whose goal was to lower infant and maternal mortality rates. At the time, one in 10 children died during the first year; one in five by age 5. The average birthrate was six children per woman; now, it is two children per woman.

"If you talked to 100 mothers, every one had experienced the death of a child," said Mosley, who sought to spread the message of prenatal care and contraception to women in even the remotest village.

Public health workers abroad cannot operate without the cooperation of the government, usually in the form of a formal agreement and, often, a peer review panel as well. Mosley said he didn't feel in danger while working abroad.

Even so, his family was evacuated from Bangladesh during its 1971 war of independence from Pakistan while he chose to stay. When a bomb exploded in front of the American Embassy in Cairo, Mosley was working in a laboratory a block away whose windows shattered from the blast.

Ray Martin was a student at the Bloomberg School when he met Mosley. He has since worked on various projects with Mosley. "He is both an exceptionally distinguished professional physician and public health person and a man of deep faith," said Martin, former CCIH executive director who lives in Virginia.

"He has made significant contributions to the field," said Martin.

As for Mosley, he may be semi-retired, but he is still working. He teaches a population course at the Bloomberg School and, with a colleague, a strategic leadership and population course at Hopkins and two dozen public health schools abroad.

"There are Chinese, Indonesian, Spanish and African versions," he said. "It's a two-week course and we go to the countries."

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