2004 – Gretchen & Warren Berggren

In by Marc Pitre

Warren Berggren passed away on January 30, 2015 in Golden, CO. The Lancet published an obituary detailing his life’s work and achievements on April 11, 2015.

Warren and Gretchen Berggren, a husband and wife team, have worked together for over four decades to improve the health of children across the Third World. They have successfully combined academic appointments at Harvard with work for UNICEF, Save the Children, World Relief and Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, Haiti. They never lost their commitment to serving the less fortunate, and continue to bring their skills to the remotest of populations while mentoring and training countless NGOs, students and public health practitioners along the way.

Drs. Gretchen and Warren Berggren met at the University of Nebraska Medical School in the 1950s. They both chose careers as medical missionaries in Africa where they became proponents of the value of “preventive medicine” before marrying in 1959. In the 1960s the Berggrens studied and worked at the Harvard School of Public Health before taking positions with Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti. During their first five-year tenure in Haiti, the Berggrens initiated the “Nutritional Foyer” program to train mothers in the use of local foods to correct dietary deficiencies. These early experiments in community-based appreciative public health methodologies eventually led to the “Positive Deviance / Hearth” approach well known to CORE members. Dr. Warren Berggren was responsible for the start-up and documentation of the World Relief Bangladesh PD/Hearth program, while Dr. Gretchen Berggren supervised the development of the Save the Children Vietnam PD/Hearth program. Successful documentation of these nutritional programs in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Haiti provided the experienced-based data needed to further develop and scale-up the approach. Both Berggrens continue to train numerous NGOs in this approach.

The Berggrens, participants at the Alma Ata Conference that established Primary Health Care for All and opened the way for the USAID Child Survival Grants Program, led and developed Save the Children’s child survival program for ten years. During this time, they continued to teach at Harvard keeping the PVO community of the latest technical developments while turning their academic knowledge into practical advice for PVO public health programming. Some of their advice still guides our work today: the importance of getting out to the people themselves, the power of using local data for decision making, the importance of ensuring every individual counts and is registered in the health system, and focusing on better nutrition as a key intervention for the two-thirds of malnourished Third World children.

The Berggrens are recipients of numerous awards including a Presidential citation from Bill Clinton; the Donald McKay Medal of the American Society of Tropical Medicine; the International Health Award from Mother Theresa; and the HSPH Alumni Award of Merit from Harvard University. They are proud grandparents, yet continue to travel and to teach and to mentor new public health practitioners. Dr. Gretchen Berggren continues to be an active member of the CORE Hearth listserv, contributing her experience to provoke new knowledge generation and ensuring that the PVO community remain informed of the latest technical findings and challenges.