Healthy Choices Blog

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Bush-era health care chief speaks with journalists

Published: Friday, Mar. 28, 2014 - 2:56 pm

This week, Dr. Louis W. Sullivan dropped in on the annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists in Denver to share the deep wisdom that comes with decades in public health – and a story or two.

Back in 1989, Sullivan noted, the deadly and mysterious disease of AIDS was ravaging communities.

That same year, Sullivan signed on as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for President George H. W. Bush.

Under Sullivan’s guidance, the Bush administration poured hundreds of millions of public health dollars into battling and researching AIDS.

Today, Sullivan pointed out, the disease is no longer mysterious.

And it’s no longer deadly.

“Now we understand how this virus works,” Sullivan said. “That’s a return on investment.

“Fast-forward to today, and we see this is a chronic disease, is not a fatal disease any more,” Sullivan told the gathering of about 500 health journalists.

“The story of AIDS is one of the best stories of change in the last couple of decades,” he said.

Sullivan, who referred to himself jokingly as “the only pigmented cabinet secretary” at the time, also gave the audience a heads-up to how crucial it will be to bridge the gap of disparities in the health status of ethnic minorities.

Stubborn differences exist, he said, because of an historic lack of access to health care and a lack of trust of the medical establishment.

“What we need to focus on today is that we are undergoing rapid ethnic changes in the population right now,” he said, as minorities are poised to take majority status nationwide.

“From the standpoint of investing in our future as a nation, we need to make sure all of these people are healthy.”

Such is the perspective of a man in his eighth decade who, with the exception of his tenure as HHS from 1989 to 1993, served as president of Morehouse School of Medicine for more than 20 years.


Call The Bee’s Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270.

Read more articles by Cynthia H. Craft



About Healthy Choices

Cynthia CraftCynthia H. Craft began her reporting and editing career in Columbus, Ohio, after graduating from Ohio State University. She worked at a Dallas, Texas, newspaper as an editor, and then at the Los Angeles Times, as an editor and Capitol Bureau correspondent. After working as editor in chief at the California Journal, Craft went to Lima, Peru, for three years as a visiting professor of journalism at Peruana Universidad de Ciencias Aplicadas. She was a fellow in 2012 at the National Library for Medicine in Washington, D.C. at the National Institute for Health. She's currently The Sacramento Bee's senior writer on health, a position made possible by a grant from The California Endowment.

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Email: ccraft@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1270
On Twitter: @cynthiahcraft.

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Note: The Healthy Choices blog switched blog platforms in August 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.

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