Leading Voices in Reproductive Health Honor Dr. Allan Rosenfield’s Life and Legacy

Reproductive and sexual health advocates around the world mourn the loss of Dr. Allan Rosenfield, former dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a pioneer in the field of maternal health, family planning, and HIV/AIDS.  Rosenfield died Sunday morning of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Rosenfield’s research concentrated on maternal mortality in the developing world and on the spread of HIV/AIDS among mothers and children, and he focused his research and treatment work in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.  Rosenfield was among the first to call for specific attention to maternal health rather than simply as an adjunct concern to children’s health, and to draw attention to the ethical imperative to offer HIV-positive mothers ongoing care and treatment for their HIV infection rather than simply antiretrovirals during pregnancy to prevent transmission to their newborns.

Rosenfield was honored at the International Women’s Health Coalition’s 2007 "Invest in Women" Gala, where he remarked that, "We still live in a world where it took a lecture at an international AIDS meeting, followed by an article in a medical journal, to persuade policymakers that women living with HIV/AIDS deserve HIV drugs in their own right, not just to prevent infection in their babies at birth."

Leading reproductive health advocates remember Dr. Allan Rosenfield.

Writes Frances Kissling,

Ralph Waldo Emerson had Allan Rosenfield pegged: “To
laugh often and to win the respect of intelligent persons…to find what is
best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a little better
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition.”
On his death we all sing of Allan’s accomplishments for women and
children, his tireless efforts to put women at the center of reproductive
health and the way in which he respected everyone, whatever views they held. Like
many others, I watched closely how Allan handled these last years with ALS as
in the end life is about relationships and what we can learn from each other
about how to make our way in this difficult world, and eventually how we will end
our days on earth.

Thank you Allan for what your last years taught us. You
lived them as you had always lived life. You went to work, raised money, advised
the powerful and helped everyone who asked for help.  

Countless stories will be told about Allan’s care for
others. Let me share mine. About a year into Allan’s ALS, I was diagnosed
with severe kidney disease and Allan took the time to help me find the right
doctors. As my disease progressed, I would regularly hear from Allan. Up to
about six months ago, the phone would ring around 10pm and it would be Allan
checking in on how I was doing! Even when speech became difficult, Allan
called. On his last call to me I hung up on him as I thought it was a wrong
number. He called back and we talked. Allan never gave up. And so Emerson’s
conclusion of the passage quoted above rings true: “ To have played and
laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation: to know even one life has
breathed easier because you have lived – this is to have succeeded.


Dr. Sharon Camp, CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, wrote of Dr. Rosenfield:

Allan Rosenfield was a giant
in our field and his death feels almost like the end of an era. He led in so
many ways on so many issues. He was the only person ever to chair the boards of
both Planned Parenthood and the Guttmacher Institute. There will never be
another like him.

I’ll be adding more comments as I receive them.

Please add your own remembrances in the comments section!

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  • http://www.raisingwomensvoices.net invalid-0

    Dr. Allan Rosenfield provided so many wonderful years of strong leadership and extraordinary vision about the importance of quality, accessible reproductive health care in improving women’s lives around the world. He was courageous — never afraid to speak out for what patients needed, even when it meant opposing powerful politicians. I shall always be thankful for his willingness to take on the ultraconservative religious right over such issues as abstinence-only eduation.
    I will always remember the last public appearance I saw him make, at the annual dinner of the Public Health Association of New York City, which has instituted a new annual award in his honor. While confined to a wheelchair, and speaking with great difficulty, he managed to captivate the entire room of nearly 500 people. We will miss you, Dr. Rosenfield. Lois Uttley, Director, The MergerWatch Project

  • invalid-0

    Allan Rosenfield was one of the most extraordinary people I have known in this field. His accomplishments are well documented and legion (putting the “M Back in MCH” for example) but it was his humanity and his generosity that I think touched us all so deeply. From the time I met him in the early 1980’s, he was unfailingly supportive of me and my work. I think everyone of us who knew him can recall a time when he made a call or sent a note saying “good job. thank you.” It was Allan who convinced me that I could take a job in New York City and commute from the suburbs to raise my children with family. I doubt I would have applied to SIECUS without his encouragement. And I agree with Frances, he taught us so much in the past few years about how to live with a terminal disease without ever giving up. Just a month ago, he sent me an email thanking me for an editorial I had published. The world’s women have lost a leader — hundreds of us have lost a mentor. May we all be blessed by our memories and his inspiration.

    Rev. Debra W. Haffner
    Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

  • invalid-0

    That should have read:

    “without ever giving up.”

    Emily, please go in and change! Thanks!

  • emily-douglas

    Thanks for your comment!

  • http://iwhc.org/ invalid-0

    Dr. Allan Rosenfield died peacefully at home early Sunday morning, October 12, after a nearly three-year struggle against ALS. We honored Allan at the 2007 gala. He was one of only five men of his generation who stood firm for the health and human rights of the world’s most disadvantaged women, from Chiangmai to Lagos to Harlem. Only three of these men remain.

    Allan’s death is a deep, personal loss. We worked together a long time in many ways and places. I was forever asking more of him. I suppose we always ask most of those who give most. For decades, when champions for women were so few, and those with power would only listen to men, we had no choice but to repeatedly ask Allan, or Jose, Mahmoud, Sudraji and Anibal for more. Thanks to them, many, many men and women are now demanding and acting.

    Adrienne Germain
    President, International Women’s Health Coalition

  • invalid-0

    Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is deeply saddened by the loss of Allan Rosenfield, MD. He was a longtime member of the Planned Parenthood family, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones. Dr. Rosenfield will be remembered as a lifelong champion of the health and well-being of women worldwide, as well as for his efforts to halt the HIV/AIDS pandemic and to further the human rights of all people. Allan Rosenfield believed in the power of humankind to change the world for the better. He will be missed not only by his friends and family, but by all of us who recognize his lifelong contributions to the health of women and their families.

    You can read the full PPFA statement at http://www.plannedparenthood.org.

  • http://familycareintl.org invalid-0

    Allan Rosenfield cared deeply and passionately about equity and equality for women, starting with their basic reproductive choices and proceeding through their medical care. He was uniquely able to look at the issues from different perspectives: as a clinician, providing individualized, compassionate care; as a public health professional, pushing for the systemic changes needed to help the millions of women at risk of unwanted or unsafe pregnancy; and as an advocate, speaking with conviction, clarity, and authority. His contributions were invaluable in raising awareness of maternal mortality as a global health problem, and promoting effective strategies to address it. For Allan, the professional was personal, in the most positive sense: his commitment to the cause inspired hundreds, shamed others, and profoundly changed the world.

    – Ann Starrs, President of Family Care International
    – Jill Sheffield, President Emeritus and Senior Advisor to FCI

  • dr-suzanne-poppema


    As board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, I mourn the loss of Allan Rosenfield both personally and professionally. Allan leaves behind a strong legacy as an expert and advocate in the fields of women’s health, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and human rights. I will also remember Allan for the unparalleled example he set by continuing his work with grace, will, and strength despite his illness.
    Allan was a PRCH board member, a longtime supporter of the organization, and a dear friend and colleague. In 2006, we honored Allan with the Kenneth J. Ryan Physician Leadership Award for his outstanding contributions to reproductive healthcare. We will miss him.

    Suzanne T. Poppema, MD, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health







  • invalid-0

    It has been my good fortune that my working life mingled with Allan Rosenfield’s, ever since he and Judy Jones hired me as a part time gynecologist when I was getting my Master’s in Public Health. We worked together at Columbia, at Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, and on numerous projects and articles. So I’ve had a front row seat for his wide-ranging, committed, and visionary activities in Washington Heights and around the globe.

    I’ve also had a front row seat for Allan’s efforts on behalf of any and everyone who was sick, applying to school, needed a job, or an introduction. He paid attention–detailed and kind, up close and personal–to everyone. Even during his rough and mean illness, Allan maintained that avid, eager engagement in work and life and people.

    Wendy Chavkin, MD, MPH
    Immediate Past Chair, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health
    Professor of Clinical Public Health and Obstetrics and Gynecology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University

  • invalid-0

    We at Ibis will sorely miss Allan Rosenfield, who served as a founding member of the Board of Directors of Ibis Reproductive Health. I will miss his excellent sense of humor and his support for me as President of Ibis most. Allan played a critical role in the launch of Ibis, was an amazing source of support and wisdom to me and the staff when Charlotte Ellertson, the founder of Ibis, died and he continued to provide excellent advice and input right up until his death. Allan had a keen eye for ways to simplify reproductive health services and products for women, and was committed to giving women the means to control their reproductive lives and health—which are core values at Ibis. Allan conducted the first study where midwives, not doctors, provided OCs to women and showed that not only was this safe, but significantly increased the quality of the care women received. His pioneering work on demedicalizing reproductive health care inspires much of our work at Ibis related to simplifying contraceptive and abortion services. The relationships Allan had and the work he began will leave legacies of improved health care and increased attention to women’s rights and health around the world. We look forward to continuing to try and move the world closer to his vision. I will treasure many memories of Allan, and aspire to be as generous a colleague as he was.

    Kelly Blanchard
    Ibis Reproductive Health