Dr. Harvey Fineberg on human health, nature, and the future

Photo illustration of Fineberg

Dr. Fineberg is president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Previously, he was president of the Institute of Medicine and provost of Harvard University, following 13 years as dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Fineberg has devoted most of his academic career to the fields of health policy and medical decision-making. Here, Dr. Fineberg offers five ways to look at some of the issues society faces today.


    There are many connections between human health and nature. These connections affect everything from the risk of emerging infections to the risk of wildfire. They impact the world’s food supply, the survival of threatened species and ecosystems, and more. The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the risk of emerging zoonotic infections.
    As ecosystems are degraded or humans move into frontier regions, opportunities for human-animal interactions increase, along with the risk of emergent disease. The long-term solution rests in ecosystem management and species conservation, as well as human choices in how and where we live and interact with the world around us.
    Each zoonotic virus will have its own attributes. But there will generally be a need for accurate and timely diagnostics, public health control, clinical treatments, and safe and effective preventives. There is no shortage of preparedness plans. What has been lacking is successful implementation, adequate investment in public health preventives and solutions, and acceptance of a shared burden.
    Philanthropy can act both independently and cooperatively. It can be flexible. It’s a diverse field, ranging from individuals and families to large professionalized organizations. Through this diversity, when there is a call to common purpose, durable change is possible. This is what the Moore Foundation seeks to achieve through our work.
    Focusing on possibility gives me hope to continue working toward a better future, every day. To quote Dr. Bernard Lown, cofounder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War: “I am a pessimist about the past, because there is nothing to be done to change it. But I am an optimist about the future, because that is in our hands to shape.”

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