Dean Says Global Issues Include Those At Home, Too

March 12, 2003

Heather Heilman

Pierre Buekens, the new dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, was attracted to Tulane because of its global reputation. "This is a school that is very open to the world and with very strong global programs," he said. "When I say 'global' I don't mean 'international' only. I mean dealing with international and domestic issues, and connecting the two."

He wants to build on this strength both by expanding international programs and by strengthening the connection between projects undertaken at home and in other countries. "There are very few health problems that only affect people overseas and not in the United States, or vice versa."

He has pursued his research interests, in perinatal epidemiology and minority health, across the globe. As he was settling in at Tulane, the British Journal of Medicine was publishing the results of his study of access to cesarean sections in sub-Saharan Africa.

Although he's scaled back his research a bit since accepting his new job, he's kept two major long-term projects. Since one of his goals at Tulane is to attract and nurture new research, he said it's important that he remain active as an investigator. His main project is an intervention study being conducted in 24 hospitals in Uruguay and Argentina, focused on quality of medical care during delivery.

It's funded by a National Institutes of Health program called the Global Network for Women's and Children's Health Research. The project is administered through the Pan-American Health Organization's Latin American Center for Perinatology and Human Development in Uruguay.

His other project, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a study of maternal mortality rates--the number of women who die due to complications during pregnancy and delivery--in Europe and the United States. While most people assume that few women in the developed world die during childbirth, Buekens hypothesizes that the numbers may be greater than reported.

"There are isolated reports from some states that suggest we may have twice as many deaths as are reported in the United States," he said. "There's evidence that there's also some under-representation in Europe, but not to the same extent."

Buekens, who is Belgian, received a medical degree, master's of public health and doctorate in epidemiology and public health from The Free University of Brussels. He is certified in obstetrics and gynecology but no longer has a clinical practice.

From 1982 to 1996, he was a researcher at the Free University of Brussels, while crossing the Atlantic regularly as a visiting associate professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He was vice president of the Free University of Brussels School of Public Health before moving to the United States to serve as chair of maternal and child health and associate dean for global health at the University of North Carolina.

He has served as a consultant for the World Health Organization, UNICEF and other international organizations, and is the president of the Society for Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiologic Research.

Heather Heilman can be reached at

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000