February 15, 2010

Carl E. Taylor, 93, founded academic discipline of international health

Taylor worked in 70 nations to improve health of the world's most marginalized people

Carl E. Taylor

Carl E. Taylor

Carl E. Taylor, founder of the academic discipline of international health and a man of spiritual conviction who dedicated his life to the well-being of the world’s marginalized people, died Feb. 4 in Baltimore from prostate cancer. He was 93.

The reach of his life was extraordinary, as he worked in more than 70 countries and had students from more than 100 nations. He was sharing this near century-long perspective with his students up until a week before his death.

Taylor, who came to Johns Hopkins in 1961, was born in 1916 in the Indian Himalayas to medical missionaries and began his career as a 7-year-old pharmacist assistant in his parents’ oxcart-based clinic in the jungles where he spent his childhood. Following medical school at Harvard-his application opened with “My study of anatomy began [with] dissecting a tiger to see where the food went”-he worked in Panama, where he married the former Mary Daniels, his wife of 58 years, who was professor emeritus of education at Towson University before her death in 2001.

Taylor returned to India in 1947 as director of Fategarh Presbyterian Hospital, where he led a medical team through the deadly riots of 1947 during the separation of India and Pakistan. In 1949, he conducted the first health survey of Nepal, then the most closed country in Asia. Returning to Harvard, he completed his MPH and DrPH degrees. His doctoral dissertation provided the seminal research that defined the synergism between nutrition and infection, today a principle at the foundation of public health. In 1952, he founded the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Christian Medical College Ludhiana, the first such department in the developing world.

The founding chair of the Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins, Taylor was instrumental in designing the global agenda for primary health care in the 1960s and 1970s. Before the concept was widely embraced, he was part of research and movements that connected women’s empowerment and holistic community-based change.

Throughout his life, Taylor had a particular interest in health care reform, especially the integration of services. His research achievements were wide-ranging. The Narangwal Rural Health Research Project in northern India, which he led from 1960 to 1975, provided breakthrough understandings in the diagnosis and treatment of childhood pneumonia, neonatal tetanus, getting medical care to villages, synergism of malnutrition and child mortality, understanding childhood diarrheal treatment and community empowerment for just and lasting health solutions.

In addition to his 48 years at Johns Hopkins, Taylor was China representative for UNICEF from 1984 to 1987. From 1992 until his death, he was senior adviser to Future Generations and, more recently, Future Generations Graduate School, where a professorship is endowed in his name. From 2004 to 2006, he was Future Generations’ country director for Afghanistan, where he led field-based action groups using more than 400 mosques as educational sites for women. He returned to Afghanistan in 2008, at age 92, to test hypotheses about how “women can, in action groups, solve the majority of their family health problems.”

Taylor was the primary World Health Organization consultant in preparing documents in 1978 for the Alma Ata World Conference on Primary Health Care. From 1957 through 1983, he advised WHO on a wide range of international health matters. In 1972, Taylor became the founding chair of the National Council for International Health, now known as the Global Health Council. He was also the founding chair of the International Health Section of the American Public Health Association.

Taylor published more than 190 peer-reviewed journal articles, books, chapters and policy monographs. In addition to his earned degrees, Taylor received honorary degrees from Muskingum College, Towson State University, China’s Tongji University, Peking Union Medical College and The Johns Hopkins University. In 1993, President Bill Clinton recognized him for “sustained work to protect children around the world in especially difficult circumstances and a life-time commitment to community-based primary care.”

Taylor is survived by his two brothers, John and Gordon; two sisters, Gladys and Margaret; three children, Daniel, Betsy and Henry; and nine grandchildren. With an eight-decade-long career in international health, he was beloved by thousands of students and colleagues around the world. His stories of adventure and service enabled them to believe that they, too, could create just and lasting change. In the last year of his life, he was sitting with women in a bamboo hut in northeast India asking them how they would shape their futures, and they responded, “It is harra, the empowerment of ourselves.”

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20, at Brown Memorial Church-Park Avenue, Park and Lafayette avenues, in Baltimore. Gifts in Taylor’s honor may be sent to the Mary & Carl Taylor Fund, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe St., Baltimore, MD, 21205 (www.jhsph.edu); the Mary & Carl Fund for Global Mission, Brown Memorial Church, (www.browndowntown.org); or Carl Taylor Scholarships, Future Generations Graduate School, Road Less Traveled, Franklin, WV 26807 (www.future.org).