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Dr. Allan Rosenfield, at 75; advocate for women's health

By H. Roger Segelken
New York Times News Service / October 19, 2008
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NEW YORK - Allan Rosenfield, a Brookline, Mass., native who as dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University became a leading advocate for women's health during the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, died Oct. 12 at his home in Hartsdale, N.Y. He was 75.

The cause was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, said his son, Paul.

Dr. Rosenfield, who learned he had ALS in 2005, also had another progressive disease, myasthenia gravis, but he continued to work until his retirement in June, after 22 years as dean of the school. He worked for more than four decades on women's reproductive health and human rights, innovative family planning studies, and strategies to address maternal deaths because of AIDS in developing countries.

Perhaps his most notable effort was the Mother-to-Child Transmission program, which has so far brought comprehensive healthcare to more than 500,000 women and infants.

When Columbia University's president, Lee C. Bollinger, announced in 2006 that the public health school's main building on West 168th Street would be named for Dr. Rosenfield, Bollinger said, "Over the last three decades at Columbia, Allan has not only inspired and trained generations of public health leaders, he has helped define what a school of public health should be."

Among the global initiatives organized from the school during Dr. Rosenfield's tenure were the $50 million Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program (from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (with $125 million from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).

Dr. Rosenfield was born in Brookline and received his bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Harvard College in 1955 and his medical degree from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1959.

In the 1960s, before HIV/AIDS became a global concern, Dr. Rosenfield worked in Thailand with the Population Council, a nonprofit, advising the Thai ministry of public health on reproductive, maternal, and child health issues. It was an effort he later recognized as the turning point of his career.

At a time when the population growth rate in Thailand was 3.3 percent and the country faced a severe shortage of physicians, Dr. Rosenfield helped develop a national family planning program that trained auxiliary midwives to prescribe birth control. By 2000, Thailand's population growth rate had dropped to 0.8 percent a year.

In 1975, Dr. Rosenfield joined the Columbia faculty as a professor of public health and obstetrics and gynecology, as well as director of the school's new Center for Population and Family Health. He ordered a dual focus on the global outreach that the public-health school would become known for and efforts in Columbia's immediate neighborhood in Upper Manhattan.

He leaves his wife, Clare, of Hartsdale; a son, Paul, of Riverdale, N.Y.; a brother, Jim of Manhattan; a daughter, Jill Baker of Brookline; and five grandchildren.

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