Letters to the Editor
Responses to the letter in the April issue of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene News arguing in favor of a name change:
Debates about the name of our Society, and especially the term "Hygiene," are not new to our Society; the recent open letter to the Tropical Medicine and Hygiene News, and the response by ASTMH President Panosian, are a revisitation of a long-simmering debate. Indeed, for a few moments during its inception in 1951, our name was the "American Society of Tropical Medicine and Public Health," and only later was our current name adopted. For a historical background on the topic, I commend to the ASTMH membership and News readership my history of our Society, delivered at the 2003 Centennial meeting and available online. The key section is reprinted here, below:
Selection of the name for the new amalgamated society [dsb note: merger of the "National Malaria Society" and the "American Society of Tropical Medicine" ] proved to be the focal point for a clash of identities. Members of the National Malaria Society, most of whom were engineers and sanitarians concerned with operational vector control, were clearly unhappy with the unqualified term "Tropical Medicine." An early draft of the constitution listed a variety of options for a new name for the amalgamated society:
* The American Society (Association) of Tropical Medicine (Diseases) and Public Health
* American Society of Tropical and Parasitic Diseases
* American Society of Tropical Diseases and Hygiene
* American Society of Tropical Diseases (Medicine) (Health) and Sanitation
When amalgamation was put to a vote of the two societies in mid-1951, the ballots sent to members of both societies (and semi-final draft of the Constitution and By-Laws) listed the name of the new organization as
* The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Public Health
Both memberships approved the amalgamation. However, the issue of the name for the new Society was not yet resolved, for several influential members of the former National Malaria Society refused to accept the proposed name. On October 31, 1951, G. Robert Coatney at the National Institutes of Health, Editor of the Journal of the National Malaria Society, wrote a letter to S.W. Simmons, Secretary-Treasurer of that Society. The letter, which was co-signed by 13 of his colleagues, read as follows:
"Dear Sam, We understand that there have been very few expressions of opinion from the membership of the Society regarding the name of the organization after amalgamation with the American Society of Tropical Medicine. We have had considerable discussion about the point here, and are in general agreement that the proper name for the Society should be: The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. We object strenuously to such titles as Tropical Public Health or Tropical Medicine and Public Health. We feel that the term Hygiene encompasses all those aspects of public health which are not included in the term "medicine" and that there is ample precedent for such a name as we propose, such as the eminent British Journal."
Lest there be any ambiguity in the letter, Coatney appended a hand-written note to it:
"Sam, Just to let you know that we are not going to take this lying down. Bob"
An identically worded letter was sent on that same day to Quentin Geiman of the ASTM by D. Jane Taylor from the NIH on the letterhead of the Tropical Medicine News, co-signed by Leon Jacobs and 12 other colleagues. Five persons were co-signatories to both Coatney's letter to Simmons and Taylor's letter to Geiman (Coatney, Wright, Tomlinson, Wake, and Haas).
Although further written records are lacking, it is evident that diplomacy prevailed, for at the organizational meeting in Chicago 17 days later (November 17, 1951) the new "American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene" was established, with Martin D. Young as its first President.
Donald S. Burke, M.D.
Dean, Graduate School of Public Health
University of Pittsburgh
Great societies and schools must think alike, because the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, have both undergone extensive reviews of their name and branding. Both have considered whether to change the name, and specifically drop the hygiene portion. Both have decided to retain their historic and well-branded names. The RSTMH has changed its logo and revised its mission statement, much as the ASTMH. There is no question that the RSTMH is focusing increasingly on global health, as evidenced by its centennial meeting last September. The School has always focused on the broader aspects of health and hygiene and will be improving its marketing and fund-raising capacity, as you are well-aware, to let the world and stakeholders know of its accomplishments.
What’s in a name — perhaps tradition, recognition, respect and familiarity. Yes all three (RSTMH, LSHTM, ASTMH) could successfully change their names. But it would take money, effort and time for the new name to permeate. Perhaps it is more important that we/they spend their time and money on working for health for all. If we can achieve that, then the name will certainly matter less than the work we do.
With best wishes,
Prof. David R. Hill
Director, National Travel Health Network and Centre
Hospital for Tropical Diseases
We welcome correspondence from the membership on matters of their concern, whether regarding Tropical Medicine and Hygiene News, or any other aspects of the Society. We'd like to hear from you.
For publication consideration in the next issue of the newsletter, send your letter to the editor to email@example.com by October 1.
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