Laura Kahn

Laura H. Kahn

Articles by Laura H. Kahn

23 March 2011

The unsolved anthrax murder mystery

Laura H. Kahn

The US public health system has serious vulnerabilities, and one major problem is identifying and responding to public health crimes.

15 February 2011

Deforestation and emerging diseases

Laura H. Kahn

In the late 1990s a deadly new disease emerged from the tropical forests of Malaysia, spread by fruit bats whose natural habitat had been destroyed by deforestation. The Malaysian government was unprepared for this new disease and subsequently bore high costs from the outbreak, including more than 100 human lives lost as well as an economically devastating collapse of its pig-farming industry. Eventually, the new scourge was identified and named: the Nipah virus.

10 January 2011

Lessons from the Netherlands

Laura H. Kahn

With more than 4,000 people falling ill since 2007, the Netherlands is experiencing one of the world's worst outbreaks of Q fever. A zoonotic disease (meaning it can be transmitted from animals to people), Q fever can cause sickness and even death in humans. The Dutch struggle to address the ongoing outbreak can be instructive in terms of how to improve the handling of public health crises, and the rest of the world would do well to learn from their experience.

23 November 2010

Making sense of the Haitian cholera disaster

Laura H. Kahn

On January 12, 2010, Haiti, one of the world's poorest nations, suffered a 7.0 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people, flattened the government (literally), and destroyed the relief headquarters of the United Nations. Consequently, over a million people were left homeless and live in squalor without access to adequate hygiene, clean water, or food. And earlier this November, Hurricane Tomas only added to the devastation with widespread flooding. This setting was ripe for cholera, a deadly diarrheal disease, to rear its ugly head. And sadly, that's what happened.

11 November 2009

When the H1N1 flu hits home

Laura H. Kahn

On Saturday, October 24, President Barack Obama declared the H1N1 flu a national emergency. To date, more than 20,000 people have been hospitalized and more than 1,000 have died.

27 October 2009

When science is lacking, good leadership is critical

Laura H. Kahn

Since the middle of the twentieth century, more than 330 novel infectious diseases have emerged in human populations. The majority of these new diseases spread from animals to humans--take, for example, HIV/AIDS, SARS, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (commonly known as "mad cow disease," or BSE). Some political leaders chose to respond to these dangerous diseases by ignoring or downplaying the problem. Others consulted scientific and medical experts in order to make informed decisions to combat the threats.

13 October 2009

The need for political leadership during a crisis

Laura H. Kahn

The concept of "meta leaders"--individuals who make decisions beyond their official lines of authority in order to facilitate collaborations across jurisdictions and agencies--was proposed in an effort to overcome the silo thinking that characterizes how traditional government leaders carry out their roles. Since then, meetings and summits have promoted the concept of "meta leadership" among business, government, and nonprofit sectors.

28 September 2009

Leadership in a public health crisis

Laura H. Kahn

Max Weber, the noted German sociologist of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, wrote that an inherent conflict exists between political and bureaucratic leaders. Political leaders strive to get reelected and implement their ideologically based policies while bureaucratic leaders aim to perpetuate and expand their bureaucracies.

3 September 2009

Reduce the spread of flu with good hand hygiene

Laura H. Kahn

A recent report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimates that a resurgence of the H1N1 influenza virus during the 2009-2010 flu season could lead to 30,000-90,000 deaths, mostly in children and young adults. What's worse, the flu season could begin as early as September, just as school is starting.

3 August 2009

Hiroshima, (re)visited

Laura H. Kahn

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, my father, who had struggled through the Great Depression to become a surgeon, volunteered with the U.S. Army. He was stationed in the United States for some time, but eventually sought an overseas assignment. In March 1944 he shipped out of San Francisco to join the 35th General Hospital in New Guinea and then, one year later, transferred to the 1st Portable Surgical Hospital at Leyte Island in the Philippines where he operated on wounded soldiers in an active combat zone.