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Elders is Ideal Choice for Surgeon General

By Rosalynn Carter

USA Today

BYLINE: Rosalynn Carter; Betty Bumpers

It is time to set the record straight on Dr. Joycelyn Elders, President Clinton's nominee for surgeon general, before the Senate committee vote on her nomination Friday.

Although this accomplished physician and public health official has devoted most of her life to promoting the health of children, recently she has been unfairly cast as a radical out of touch with the mainstream. Such politically motivated attacks are a disservice to the 254 million Americans who would benefit greatly from her appointment as the chief public health officer of the nation.

We know Dr. Elders better than most. As women and mothers concerned about children's health, we have followed her career as a pediatric endocrinologist and her six-year tenure as state health director in Arkansas. We have come to admire her strong vision, her strong voice and her unwillingness to bend for political convenience.

Last year we witnessed firsthand the results of her efforts when we visited Arkansas as part of our Every Child by Two immunization project. Thanks to the program Dr. Elders implemented, immunization levels for 2-year-olds in the state increased from 34% in 1989 to 60% in 1992.

Even with that success rate, she was not fully satisfied. She was so determined to increase the vaccination rate beyond 60% that she extended hours at clinics, set up a state computer tracking program and authorized the use of home public nurses to do community outreach so that children in outlying areas could be vaccinated. Dr. Elders also set up a structure to monitor children's vaccination records every time they visit a public health clinic.

We know from our experience that this level of dedication makes a difference not only in fostering better health among children but also in saving taxpayer dollars down the road.

Joycelyn Elders has never wavered ion her commitment to improving public health. Since competing her medical education 30 years ago, she has seen the tragic toll that poverty, teen pregnancy, AIDS, substance and alcohol abuse, and violence have inflicted on our society. Throughout her career, she has responded with firm convictions and sound judgments about how to make our nation healthier.

As a caring wife and mother of two, she understands the hard choices facing many families today. As a public health official, she has willingly confronted some of the most daunting health problems of our time. For precisely these reasons, we believe that Joycelyn Elders is ideally suited to be surgeon general. Doctor, educator, wife, mother and courageous public servant - she is all of these. We urge her speedy confirmation.

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