Dr. Louis Sullivan (Former US Secretary of Health & Human Services)

21.05.2011 - Interview conducted by Katie Dickmeyer

Q1: Inside the National Health Museum, there is a Cyber Museum used to reach a wider range of audiences. The goal of the National Health Museum is to promote national health and wellness. Have new technologies such as social media been utilized to create more interactive applications to further this goal?

We’ve not yet utilized social media, but we really intend to do so.  It’s becoming clear that we would be much more effective and reach a larger audience by using social media. What we have done thus far is develop a number of programs for rural communities, teaching people about specific topics such as heart disease, immunization etc. The Health Museum is still in its early stages and we certainly intend to use social media.

Q2. What are the major challenges when using health initiatives as a form of cultural diplomacy?

The major challenges are to find ways to work with the countries or the populations where we will be. The most effective way to work is to show the population that this initiative is in their interest.  We really find out the things that they feel are important, so that they are vested in it. Those of us from developed countries really need to listen. We need to find a way to reach the population where we have people working.  If we don’t have that type of connection, if we’re not understood or trusted, then we’re wasting our time.  We must find ways of working with the population and have them help us.

Q3. Providing aid such as health care in countries where it is needed may foster gratitude by the locals towards the donor country. However, does this not create a one-way street in terms of cultural diplomacy, seeing as mutual understanding requires the exchange of ideas rather than simply the imposition of them?

I believe the most viable exchange is where both sides are contributing and are benefiting. For example, in the West we have many medicines that came out of ancient cures that were not really understood.  One of the best examples is digitalis or digoxin a drug used for the treatment of heart failure, which was an extract of the foxglove plant, originally used by a mid-wife in England back in the fifteenth Century. People didn’t know why it worked; they just knew how it worked. With Modern Science we studied this foxglove plant and extracted the effective chemicals and made derivatives of these chemicals. This is an instance where Western medicine benefited from a folk remedy. There are many examples like this, of mutual advantages for both sides or with both sides benefiting.

Thank you for your time.