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Prevention is at the Core of Public Health, FDA Commissioner Tells Global Business Forum Audience

January 13, 2011
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Hamburg and Shalala

President Donna E. Shalala leads keynote with
Commissioner Hamburg

Prevention is a core principal of public health, key to facing challenges from food safety to tobacco, Food & Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told a packed auditorium Thursday at the University of Miami Global Business Forum, organized by the School of Business. University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, led the keynote, which took the form of an informal interview of Hamubrg by Shalala.

Calling her position “an exciting opportunity” in a challenging time, Hamburg told the more than 600 conference attendees about the “enormous ongoing challenge” of food safety, the need for a shift from a domestic to a global focus, and the recently passed food safety bill, which she called “historic.”

“Congress is calling on the FDA to put into place a whole new approach to food safety based on prevention,” Hamburg said. “It’s much more cost-effective and much more effective in terms of reducing unnecessary illness to try and identify points of vulnerability ahead of time, address them and prevent problems from happening in the first place.”

Drawing on her own personal relationship with Hamburg, Shalala questioned the commissioner on everything from bioterrorism to regulatory science — the discipline that studies the science and tools used to evaluate product safety, efficacy, potency and quality, which Hamburg called “critical.” Other topics they touched on included biomedical research, where, Hamburg said, “We have to be more strategic in our investments.”

Shalala also broached the topics of generic drugs and the continuing challenges of pharmaceutical pricing. Speaking of her elderly aunt’s range of “expensive” medications, Shalala broached the topic with humor. “Why can’t she just get them from Canada where they’re cheaper?” she asked Hamburg, drawing roars of laughter from the auditorium. Hamburg responded by questioning the quality and safety of any drugs ordered online.

Hamburg's focus on preparedness permeated the hour-long question-and-answer session, as she recounted both her days as a pre- 9/11 New York City Health Commissioner and her days at the Department of Health and Human Services. Her longtime focus, she explained, is on rebuilding the public health infrastructure. “Public health is public safety,” Hamburg said.

Hamburg crowd

Commissioner Hamburg speaks to a packed house.

The conversational session was introduced by George Foyo, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Baptist Health South Florida, a plenary session sponsor.

The three-day Global Business Forum featured some of the world’s most prominent health care industry thought leaders. In addition to the keynote addresses, the Forum included more than 30 panel sessions organized in six tracks, including economics and health care, aging, innovation, wellness and prevention, global health issues and hospital design, technology and delivery systems of the future.

The Forum's key sponsors included BlueCross BlueShield of Florida and Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

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