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February 2018, Week 2

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 [https://portside.org/] 
Material of Interest to People on the Left 

 DR. VICTOR SIDEL, WHO FOSTERED HEALTH AND PEACE, DIES AT 86  
[https://portside.org/node/16469] 

 

 Richard Sandomir 
 February 7, 2018
New York Times
[https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/07/obituaries/dr-victor-sidel-public-health-champion-is-dead-at-86.html]


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 _ This great doctor taught us there can be no public health without
world peace. Despite the specter of nuclear annihilation during the
Cold War, Dr. Sidel was an optimist and innovator who preached that
community outreach was a critical factor in treating vulnerable
populations. _ 

 Montefiore Medical Center , Dr. Victor Sidel outside what is now
Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx in the 1980s. 

 

Dr. Victor Sidel, a leading public health specialist whose concerns
ranged from alleviating the effects of poverty in the Bronx, where he
worked for many years, to raising alarms about the potential impact of
nuclear war, died on Jan. 30 in Greenwood Village, Colo. He was 86.

His son Mark confirmed the death.

As a founding member of Physicians for Social Responsibility
[http://www.psr.org/?referrer=https://www.google.com/] and
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
[http://www.ippnw.org/], which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, Dr.
Sidel voiced his apprehensions about nuclear proliferation as a public
health issue for more than 50 years. He served as president of the
former organization and co-president of the latter.

In a paper in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1962, Dr. Sidel,
Dr. H. Jack Geiger and Dr. Bernard Lown painted a grim picture of
fatalities and injuries in the Boston area from a nuclear attack and
posed ethical questions for surviving doctors.

“Does the physician seek shelter?” they asked, adding, “If the
physician finds himself in an area high in radiation, does he leave
the injured to secure his own safety?”

And in speeches beginning in the mid-1980s, Dr. Sidel (pronounced
sy-DELL) used a metronome to stress what he described as the imbalance
between worldwide spending on arms and health care. With the metronome
set at one beat a second, Dr. Sidel explained that with every beat, a
child died or was permanently disabled by a preventable illness, while
$25,000 was spent on weaponry.

“Tiny fractions of that spending could, of course, produce
remarkable changes in health,” he told the American Public Health
Association in Washington in 1985, when he was its president. “The
cost of one half-day of world arms spending could pay for the full
immunization of all the children in the world against the common
infectious diseases.”

In 1988, when he brought the metronome to a speech in Rochester, he
wondered aloud if arms spending had damaged the world even without the
dropping of nuclear bombs.

“To what extent are we now living in the rubble caused by the
diversion of resources?” he asked.

Dr. Sidel in an undated family photograph. “I want to prevent the
wounds, not simply treat them,” he said.
Dr. Sidel was among 139 people arrested
[http://www.nytimes.com/1986/10/01/us/139-arested-in-protest-at-nevada-nuclear-test-site.html],
including the astronomer Carl Sagan, during a protest organized by the
American Public Health Association at a nuclear test site in Mercury,
Nev., in 1986.

During the demonstration, the Department of Energy conducted an
underground test 50 miles away.

“P.S.R. kept alive discussion of the medical risk of nuclear
weapons, nuclear tests and nuclear power plants,” he told the
group’s San Francisco chapter in 2011
[http://sfbaypsr.org/50th-anniversary-talks-by-dr-victor-sidel/].
“If P.S.R. had not existed, a medical voice in opposing these risks
would not have been effectively heard.”

His interest in world affairs was wide-ranging. A year before the
demonstration in Nevada, he had been arrested during a protest in
Washington against South Africa’s apartheid policies. (A photograph
of him being arrested hung in his office at Montefiore.)

Despite the specter of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War, Dr.
Sidel was an optimist and innovator who preached that community
outreach was a critical factor in treating vulnerable populations.

As chairman of the department of social medicine at Montefiore Medical
Center in the Bronx for 16 years, he developed community health
centers, trained interns and residents to study the economic and
social factors that affected local residents’ health, initiated a
project to improve the health of children in local day-care centers,
and worked on programs to address prisoners’ health.

“I worked at Rikers and ran a health service, and he was so
supportive,” Dr. Steven M. Safyer, president and chief executive of
Montefiore Medicine, said of Dr. Sidel. “He’d say that we’re
locking up all these people but the reason they didn’t get through
school is they lived in poverty. He was always thinking about the
bigger picture.”

Victor William Sidel was born in Trenton on July 7, 1931. His father,
Max, and his mother, the former Ida Ring, Jewish immigrants from
Ukraine, met in Philadelphia and opened a pharmacy in Trenton, where
young Victor worked and saw the effects of poverty and poor nutrition
on the store’s customers.

He received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Princeton
University, where, he recalled, Albert Einstein once attended his
professor’s classroom demonstration of surface tension. “So I got
to shake hands with Albert Einstein and have not washed my hands
since,” he said in an interview in 2013 for the journal Social
Medicine
[http://www.socialmedicine.info/index.php/socialmedicine/article/viewFile/733/1381].

After graduating from Harvard Medical School, where he worked in the
biophysical laboratory studying the membrane structure of red blood
cells, he started his residency at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now
Brigham and Women’s Hospital) in Boston. He spent two years at the
National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., before returning to
Brigham to complete his residency. By then, Dr. Sidel had been invited
by Dr. Lown, a cardiologist at Harvard
[http://lowninstitute.org/staff/bernard-lown-md/], to join what became
Physicians for Social Responsibility. Dr. Lown was a co-founder.

Dr. Sidel, in a family photograph, being arrested at an anti-apartheid
protest at the South African Embassy in Washington in 1985.
Moving away from work as a clinician — “I want to prevent the
wounds, not simply treat them,” he told Social Medicine — he
became chief of the community medicine unit at Massachusetts General
Hospital in 1967 and, in 1969, chairman of Montefiore’s social
medicine department, where he was also a professor of community
health.

As part of a delegation
[http://www.nytimes.com/1971/11/21/archives/communityhealth-specialist-here-returned-from-china-praises-the.html]of
four American doctors invited to China in 1971 by the Chinese Academy
of Sciences, Dr. Sidel studied that country’s health-care system
several months before President Richard M. Nixon’s historic visit.

Dr. Sidel’s interest in community health delivery took him to see
China’s so-called barefoot doctors, agricultural workers in the
countryside who received a few months’ training to offer basic
health care.

His experience in China — he visited several more times — inspired
the creation at Montefiore of a Bronx network of lay health workers to
promote disease prevention through education and peer counseling.

Mark Sidel said his father had steered clear of having his work used
for propaganda.

“He wouldn’t report anything about Chinese health care that
wasn’t based in science and statistics,” Mr. Sidel said in a
telephone interview, “and everywhere he went, he wanted to know
about rates of immunization and infant mortality.”

In addition to his son Mark, Dr. Sidel is survived by another son,
Kevin, and three grandchildren. His wife, the former Ruth Grossman
[http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/communications/pressroom/news/in-memoriam-ruth-sidel-robert-salmon],
a writer and sociology professor at Hunter College, died in 2016.

Dr. Barry Levy, an adjunct professor of public health at Tufts
University, said Dr. Sidel had viewed health as a “basic human
right.”

In a eulogy, Dr. Levy, who edited several books with Dr. Sidel, said:
“Vic taught us that health, peace and social justice were not
isolated concepts, but tightly woven together. I can still hear him
saying there cannot be health without peace and social justice, and
there cannot be peace and social justice without health.”

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