Whalen delivers Comstock lecture on TB control at Johns Hopkins

Dr. Christopher Whalen, Karen and Jim Holbrook Distinguished Professor in Global Health, was invited to give the 2019 George W. Comstock lecture at Johns Hopkins University on November 12.

Established in 2008 to honor Dr. George W. Comstock’s lifetime of work in public health and tuberculosis control, this annual lecture given by distinguished leaders addresses important public health issues in global tuberculosis control.

A physician-epidemiologist of unparalleled eminence in the field of tuberculosis control, Dr. Comstock earned his medical degree at Harvard, later receiving his MPH from the University of Michigan and his DrPH from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene & Public Health

During World War II he served as a ship’s doctor and later joined the US Public Health Service Tuberculosis Program. He organized field trials to investigate the BCG vaccine in Muscogee County, Georgia, and Puerto Rico, showing a low overall efficacy of BCG. As a consequence, BCG was never formally adopted as a control strategy in the U.S.

In the mid-1950s, Dr. Comstock organized one of the first cluster-randomized trials in medical history, a trial of isoniazid preventive chemotherapy in the Bethel region in Alaska, where a tuberculosis epidemic was ravaging the native population. After one year, tuberculosis incidence was reduced by 69% in the isoniazid households, and this benefit was sustained through 5 years of follow-up.

In his talk, “Tuberculosis – what’s the problem? The Disease or the Epidemic?,” Dr. Whalen shared his ongoing research and collaborative efforts to control TB and HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“It was true privilege and honor to be asked to give this lecture,” he said.