Professor LaVonne Downey standing in front of a fund raising table.
Professor La Vonne Downey and Philip Jackson (MPA, Health Administration Concentration)

By Tiffany Reid, BS IMC ‘21

Even as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc in the world, Professor La Vonne Downey has her eye on future public health dangers that the pandemic is aggravating. Last year, Downey and her students sent over 300 letters helping to ensure full funding of the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

In addition to writing letters, the students emailed, texted, and visited Congress and Senate members’ offices to advocate for full funding of the global immunization budget and participation in the COVAX initiative to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

“Our actions have an impact on those around us. We have to remember that we belong to each other,” said Downey, professor of public administration and director of the health science administration program.

A professional with a long-time interest in public health, Professor Downey spoke to us in December 2020 as the first COVID-19 vaccine shipments were arriving at hospitals in the United States.

Downey has long known that “we belong to each other.” She is a lifelong advocate for preventative health care and education. Her interest in public health came from her own life experience.

“I lived in less-resourced countries when I was younger.” Downey said. “I saw firsthand what happened to those without access to protective immunizations as people and children were hospitalized and died.”

“Many countries are not able to sustain immunization activities, even during normal times,” she added. “An estimated 19.7 million children under the age of one did not receive basic vaccines; this number has gone up due to COVID-19 constraints."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the global death tally from measles is now 50% greater than it was just three years ago. Forty-one countries have delayed measles immunization efforts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving an estimated 117 million children at risk. 

While these events are discouraging, Downey says she is more motivated than ever. She credits polio’s near eradication and the vaccination of more than 1 billion children during the last decade to global immunization efforts.

Professor Downey points to innovative organizations that vaccinate children. These include Gavi-The Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health partnership, and nonprofits such as Shot@Life, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF and One.

A strong proponent of experiential learning, Professor Downey’s students work directly with these organizations as part of the public administration and health science administration curriculum. Downey is also the faculty advisor for the Roosevelt student chapter of the United Nations Association.

When asked about the importance of young people gaining advocacy experience in public health, Professor Downey said, "Using their voices can change budgets, policies, and outcomes. Once students learn they can do this for global health, they can also use their voices for a wide range of issues. Knowledge and a sense of responsibility for others do not go away."

About the Health Science Administration program

Discover the growing field of health care administration and gain a broad perspective on societal issues and economic challenges facing today’s health care system. You’ll graduate with the ability to apply organizational and management theories and principles in a variety of health care and medical laboratory settings. This program is available fully online to accommodate busy working professionals. Learn more.

About the Public Administration program

Government is the largest single employer in the Chicago metropolitan area, several health care organizations are among the top 25 area employers, and the nonprofit sector is growing more rapidly than ever. Be a leader in this rich practice of public service. Learn more.

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