Thanks to a $15 million gift from the Fred H. Bixby Foundation, the UC Berkeley School of Public Health will enrich and expand its current Bixby Program in Population, Family Planning & Maternal Health to become the Bixby Center for Population, Health, and Sustainability. The new center will highlight the critical impact of population on the global environment, global public health, and civil and international conflict, and help to address the well-documented unmet need for family planning around the world.
Professor Malcolm Potts, who has led the Bixby Program at the School since becoming its director in 1992, believes that population growth is at the core of many of the world’s problems. “I think the huge challenge for the human race in the 21st century is whether we can move to a biologically sustainable way of life on this planet,” he says. “And population plays an essential role in that.”
$10 million of the overall gift will be used to create the new center, which will be anchored in the School of Public Health, but will be recognized as a campuswide center, working in collaboration with the Blum Center for Developing Economies, the Berkeley Center for Global Public Health, the Berkeley Population Center, and other initiatives. The remaining $5 million of the gift will help support a new building for the School of Public Health, in which a wing will be named in honor of Fred H. Bixby.
“This generous gift will enable our School to significantly expand initiatives in population health,” says Dean Stephen Shortell. “The impact of the Fred H. Bixby Foundation commitment will be felt around the world for generations to come.”
Fred H. Bixby (1910-1972) was a California rancher who attended UC Berkeley in the 1930s. Interested in addressing the problem of overpopulation, he provided for the creation of the Fred H. Bixby Foundation in his will. The three trustees of the foundation, John Warren, Howard Friedman, and Owen Patotzka, oversaw the foundation’s first pledge to the School of $500,000 to establish at Berkeley the Fred H. Bixby Chair in Population and Family Planning, which resulted in the recruitment of Potts, a Cambridge-trained obstetrician and reproductive scientist who had been the first medical director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Over the next 16 years, Potts built a team of population and family planning experts with the goal of broadening the understanding of the population factor and making an impact on policy all around the world. That team includes Professor Ndola Prata, Professor Martha Campbell, Paige Passano, Amita Sreenivas, Claire Norris, and Laura Spautz. Campbell is also the founder and president of Venture Strategies for Health and Development, a nonprofit organization designed to build on the science from the university.
As an example of translating research into action, Potts cites a joint initiative with Campbell’s organization and directed by Prata to make injectable contraceptives such as Depo-Provera more available in rural villages in Ethiopia. “In this case, we know from our research that Ethiopian women like injectable contraception,” says Potts, “That’s their choice. Currently the rules are that only doctors and nurses can give these injections, but there aren’t any doctors in the remote villages. We’re showing that you don’t need doctors or nurses; you just need a person in the village who will teach others in a few days how to give injections. In one village, we trained an Ethiopian priest to give the injections. These are the kind of details that just change the world.”
Potts and Campbell make a compelling case for the urgency of addressing population growth, pointing to its underlying contribution to problems such as global warming, war, and violence. “All these terrorists come from places where it’s difficult to get birth control,” Potts puts it simply. Another striking point: “We’ve never found a country that has gotten out of poverty while maintaining high birth rates,” says Campbell. “Governments of rapidly growing countries simply cannot keep up with the requirements for education and health services when the number of children increases every year. At the same time there is a huge unmet need for family planning in all the fast-growing countries.”
Potts believes that Berkeley is the only university that has been consistently saying two things: first, that rapid population growth has a lot of deleterious effects, and second, that population growth can be slowed in a human rights framework. “Other universities have gone into much less focus and more diffuse descriptions of this,” he says. “I see the Center as an opportunity for Berkeley to enhance its leadership in the United States and globally in putting population growth back on the world agenda.”