Founding Director

Jonathan Mann

Dr. Jonathan Mann (1947-1998), founding Director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, was a visionary and activist whose legacy continues to influence the global response to health inequities. Now over a decade after his tragic death, his commitment to the practiceof human rights as a tool for health is one that still inspires and informs public health efforts around the world. Here we offer a brief sketch of Mann’s life as it continues to shape the work and vision of the FXB Center.

Jonathan Mann studied history at Harvard College, where he received his BA (magna cum laude) in 1969, followed by medical school at Washington University, St. Louis, where he received his MD in 1974. After working as an epidemiologist in New Mexico and at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), he received his MPH from Harvard School of Public Health, in 1980. During the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic he worked in Zaire, where he founded and directed Project SIDA, a collaborative AIDS research project that built international collaborations between the CDC, national institutes of health, the Belgium-based Institute of Tropical Medicine, and the Ministry of Health, Zaire. In 1986, Mann was appointed the first head of the Global Programme on AIDS, at the World Health Organization (WHO). Building the new WHO program from scratch, Mann’s innovative advocacy and resource mobilization initiatives included organizing the first-ever gathering in London of over a hundred national Ministers of Health to discuss a single issue: HIV/AIDS. The Countess Albina du Boisrouvray, founder of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Foundation and founder and president of FXB International, remembers that listening to Mann “was not like hearing an international health doctor. It was like hearing an activist. This was someone who wanted to change the world.”[1]

What Mann wanted to change were social and cultural factors that heighten disease risk. In the case of HIV/AIDS, he recognized that “social marginalization, discrimination, and stigmatization, in other words a lack of respect for human rights and dignity, is itself a root cause of the epidemic.”[2] His work at WHO consequently put the spotlight on HIV/AIDS as an international pandemic that needed to be addressed as a problem of human rights, not just as a medical problem. Pushing public health researchers and practitioners to explore the social determinants of health, he called for a framework for analysis that would result in action. “For Jonathan,” says Dr. Jim Yong Kim, “connecting health and human rights was a very practical issue. It wasn’t a matter of making a philosophical argument about health as a human right or even a legal argument about health as a human right. It was his effort to protect the poorest of the poor.”[3]

Mann returned to the United States in 1990, when he was appointed Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. In that same year, he founded Doctors of the World-USA (now HealthRight International), a global health and human rights organization that works to build lasting access to health for excluded communities. In 1993 he became the first François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of Health and Human Rights and founding Director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. Over the next five years, Mann’s work at the FXB Center established a solid human rights framework for addressing public health issues around the world. Together with Daniel Tarantola and Sofia Gruskin, whom Mann invited to join the endeavor, the FXB Center launched a new curriculum on health and human rights, child rights and child health, and HIV/AIDS; sponsored seminar series and invited lectures; and hosted two international conferences (in 1994 and 1996) on health and human rights.[4] Mann coedited the now-classic two-volume reference, AIDS in the World (Harvard University Press, 1992) and AIDS in the World II (Oxford University Press, 1996). And in 1994 Mann and his colleagues at the FXB Center launched a new peer-reviewed journal, Health and Human Rights: An International Journal. The journal was created, Mann wrote in his opening editorial,

to inform and expand the space within which ideas about the intersection between health and human rights can venture forth into the world, to be cited and criticized, debated and discussed, torn down and built up. . . . [B]y joining health and human rights — these two great modern concepts and arguments about the nature and foundations of human well-being — the journal is connected with a global quest, a sense of hopeful realism toward the future, and confidence in the heritage of life on earth.[5]

In 1997, Jonathan Mann was appointed Dean of the School of Public Health at Allegheny University of the Health Sciences in Philadelphia. Less than one year later, on September 2, 1998, Mann and his wife, Mary Lou Clements-Mann (a visiting professor of international health at HSPH during 1997) died in a tragic airplane crash on their way to meet with officials at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The legacy of Mann’s vision continues. His views on the social determinants of health, initially considered controversial, have become standard in health and human rights dialogue. The FXB Center continues to advance his commitment to practical research, writing, and advocacy in the areas of health and human rights, child rights and child health, and HIV/AIDS. Health and Human Rights: An International Journal is now available (including all back issues) online as a full text, open access journal. Worldwide, Mann’s legacy continues to be recognized through awards,[6] commemorative events,[7] and films,[8] as well as — perhaps his most lasting tribute — individuals whose lives, shaped by Mann’s prophetic voice and vision, enable the poor to realize the rights to health.

NOTES:

  1. Quoted from “Mourning the Loss of Jonathan Mann.” Available at http;//www.hsph.harvard.edu/review/mann.shtml. For more on Mann’s activities during his WHO appointment, see also Ofelia T. Monzon, “Profiles of Famous Educators: Jonathan Mann, 1947-98.” Available at http://www.ibe.unesco.org/fileadmin/user_upload/archive/publications/ThinkersPdf/manne.pdf.
  2. Interview clip from Rory O’Connor, “Rights & Wrongs: Human Rights Television,” 1995. Available at http://hhrjournal.org/blog/articles/hhr-rights-a-journalists-perspective/.
  3. Source: interview in Staffan Hildebrandt, “The Legacy of Dr. Jonathan Mann, 1947-1998,” film produced for UNAIDS to the ten year commemoration seminar at UNAIDS in Geneva, November 24, 2008. Available at http://www.faceofaids.org/show/video/72.
  4. For more on Mann’s activities and influence on the early years of the FXB Center, see François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, “From Vision to Action: The First 11 Years,” 2004. Available at http://harvardfxbcenter.org/pdf/Vision_to_Action.pdf.
  5. Jonathan Mann, “A New Journal: A New Beginning”[editorial], Health and Human Rights: An International Journal 1/1 (1994), pp. 1-2. Available at http://www.hhrjournal.org/archives-pdf/4065258.pdf.bannered.pdf.
  6. E.g., the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights, awarded annually by the WHO Global Health Council
  7. See, e.g., http://www.unaids.org/en/KnowledgeCentre/Resources/FeatureStories/archive/
  8. See notes 2 and 3.