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SPH prof plans encyclopedia with cross-cultural perspective

Kris Heggenhougen is taking a cross-cultural approach to compiling the Encyclopedia of Public Health

Sometimes our weaker moments have a way of sparking our greatest efforts. That happened recently to Kris Heggenhougen, a professor of international health at the School of Public Health, when he was asked by Elsevier Press to be the editor in chief of a 7-volume, 29-section encyclopedia of public health.

“I think they approached me during one of my weaker moments,” explains Heggenhougen about accepting the job. “I’m not really sure that I have a good reason for taking this on.”

In fact, Heggenhougen has a powerful vision for a comprehensive public health resource spanning what he calls “the waterfront of issues within the field.” The new Encyclopedia of Public Health, scheduled to be published in 2007, will include a vast range of entries, including cancer, AIDS, weight management, religion and healing, air pollution, gang violence, homicide, terrorism, pesticides, eating disorders, mortality rates, global warming, famine, and neurological disorders.

And, he says, it will do something unprecedented among other public health encyclopedias: it will move beyond a Western-centric tone and represent a cross-cultural view.

“Public health obviously affects every country, ethnic group, and culture,” Heggenhougen says. “It’s very important that we shoot for an international perspective.”

To do that, he has chosen academics and professionals in the public health field from all over the world as section editors and contributors. One of the eight editorial board members hails from Thailand, and Heggenhougen himself has spent time in more than 60 countries and worked in the public health and anthropological fields in Uganda, Guatemala, Malaysia, and Tanzania.
Approximately 600 top public health scholars and professionals will contribute to the encyclopedia, which will be released as both a hardbound and an online resource. Entries will range in length from about 2,800 to 8,400 words and include illustrations and cross-references. The online version will contain video clips, sound files, rotating images, and references to Web sites and links to other sources, a feature Heggenhougen says will keep the encyclopedia at the cutting edge.

“The concern is that we don’t want the encyclopedia to be stuck in the 1960s or the 2006 mold,” he says. “This whole project has taken several years and some of the topics are time-sensitive, so we hope that the electronic version will have links to other Web sites with up-to-date information.”

In addition to Heggenhougen, who was a professor at Harvard Medical School and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine before joining BU six years ago, two other faculty members will serve as editors. Gerald Keusch, SPH associate dean for global health, is on the editorial advisory board, and Davidson Hamer, an SPH associate professor of international health, is a coeditor of a section on infectious diseases.

Also contributing to the encyclopedia from the University are Richard Clapp, an SPH professor of environmental health, who is addressing nuclear power in public health and environmental and occupational cancer; Randall Ellis, a College of Arts and Sciences economics professor, writing on provider payment methods; School of Medicine fellow Ross Morgan, who is writing about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and Taryn Vian, an SPH assistant professor of international health, who is authoring a chapter on corruption in public health.

“My chapter is looking at issues with health sector transparency, accountability, and good governance,” says Vian. “I’m hoping to shine light in dark corners by discussing preventive strategies to those issues.”

More information on the Encyclopedia of Public Health and its contributors can be found at www.elsevier.com/homepage/about/mrwd/pubh/.