THE DISTRICT of Columbia faces problems in the area of publichealth that many consider overwhelming. It has the nation's worstinfant mortality rate, and the death rate from heart disease isespecially high. Fatalities from cancer, pneumonia and influenza,and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis far exceed national averagesand are getting worse. And at a time when visits to the city'spublic health clinics are finally on the rise - for pediatric careand general medicine - the city's health budget has shrunk from $118million to $102 million.
That makes the choice of a new commissioner of health for thecity a crucial one, and only three criteria ought to be important inmaking that decision. The person chosen should have the highestqualifications, the most experience in health matters that relateclosely to the District and the most optimism about what can beachieved here in Washington.
Mayor Dixon's first choice is Mohammad N. Akhtar, educated atJohns Hopkins University and at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine,City University of New York. He is a former health director for thestate of Missouri and former chief of emergency medical services forthe state of Michigan.
The mayor's choice is already being opposed, and a measure ofracial bias lurks within these objections that ought to be exposedand repudiated. D.C. Council member H. R. Crawford, for example, haswritten Mayor Dixon, asking her to reconsider her intent 'to appointa foreign-born national' who could not possibly be in touch with thehealth problems of the District. Mr. Crawford added later in theletter that 'the appointment of a non-African American does notportend a good message to our young people who may be desirous of acareer in public health administration.'
Dr. Akhtar's work has emphasized preventive medicine, which theDistrict must also do if it is to save both lives and limitedresources. As a senior fellow at the Mt. Sinai School, Dr. Akhtarwas responsible for planning and administering a comprehensivehealth program for schoolchildren in East Harlem. Dr. Akhtar seemsto be very well qualified for the post of health commissioner. TheD.C. Council owes him a fair and careful consideration on the meritsand not on his national origin or the color of his skin.@Slug: A22ED3