Kellogg Eye Center welcomes Carter Center’s global health chief for international showcase event

Few in their medical careers have the opportunity to impact as many lives in as many places as Dean Sienko.

Dean Sienko, Vice President of Health Programs at the Carter Center, speaks to Michigan Medicine faculty and students during Kellogg Eye Center's annual International Night.

As Vice President of Health Programs at the Carter Center, Sienko leads the non-profit’s efforts to combat diseases and public health threats among some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. He was the keynote speaker at this year’s Kellogg Eye Center International Night, an annual event that brings UMMS students and faculty together to explore global health activities at Kellogg, at UMMS, and beyond.

“Medicine is about doing good for people and that’s very tangible in global health because you’re working with such large numbers of people. I’ve been involved in helping to manage populations of a few hundred thousand, or a million,” said Sienko, MD, MS. “But at the Carter Center, this is millions of individuals – hundreds of millions. That’s a big part of what inspired me to take this job.”

A former CDC Epidemic Intelligence Officer and a retired Army major general who a few years ago led the Army Public Health Command’s efforts to keep deployed soldiers and civilian employees safe and healthy, Sienko stepped into his most recent post at the Carter Center in summer 2016. His keynote during the Oct. 23 event at Kellogg detailed the non-profit’s efforts to eliminate diseases like trachoma, onchocerciasis and Guinea Worm in countries like Chad, Mali, South Sudan and more.

“The places we typically work aren’t places you’d go as a tourist,” he said. “One of the reasons why there are neglected tropical diseases in these places is because of insecurity. These are populations that that, for whatever reason – geography, violence, civil war – are at the end of the rope.”

Prior International Night events have featured keynote addresses from prominent ophthalmologists from universities and healthcare institutions around the world, but Sienko’s inclusion brought a new perspective to the audience of faculty and students; ophthalmology trainees and faculty involved in global health efforts should understand – and when possible – be engaged in non-profit efforts in global health, he said.

“You need to know what we do in public health to prevent these blinding diseases,” he said. “Go out and witness how we do these mass drug administration campaigns, or how we organize a trachoma surgery clinic. Because, while we do have some ophthalmologists supervising the workers, they are typically not the ones doing the surgery.”

In addition to his presentation at the evening International Night Event, Sienko visited the School of Public Health earlier in the day as well.

“We were honored that Dr. Sienko could speak to our students and faculty. His unique perspective as a leader in one of the world’s most respected and impactful Non-Governmental Organizations working in public health is important for us to hear, because NGOs play such a big role in implementing treatments or solutions that might emerge from academia,” said UMMS Professor of Ophthalmology and Co-director of Kellogg’s Center for International Ophthalmology, which sponsors the annual global health showcase.

In addittion to Dr. Sienko's keynote, also included presentations by M4 Chelsea Reighard, UMMS Ophthalmology Clinical Instructor John Cropsey, Global SIght Alliance founder Stanley Pletcher, and Professor of Surgery Krishnan Raghavendran, among others.

All photos by Michigan Photography for the Kellogg Eye Center International Center for Ophthalmology.