Born and educated in South Africa, Mervyn Susser began his professional career at the Alexandra Health Centre and University Clinic, located in a poor township outside Johannesburg. However, his growing involvement in the anti-apartheid movement led to his dismissal from the clinic in 1955. The next year he and his wife and frequent collaborator, Zena Stein, left South Africa for political reasons, emigrating to Great Britain where Susser became a member of the Dept. of Social and Preventive Medicine at Manchester University and Medical Officer for the city of Salford.
In 1966, Susser was named chairman of the Division of Epidemiology at the Columbia University School of Public Health (now the Mailman School of Public Health) which he led until 1978. He became founding Director of the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center as well as the first Gertrude H. Sergievsky Professor of Epidemiology in 1977. Susser led the Center, devoted to interdisciplinary research in epilepsy and other developmental disorders of the nervous system, until 1991 at which point he was named professor emeritus. Susser had an active retirement, publishing widely, participating in numerous professional committees, and serving as the editor of the American Journal of Public Health from 1992-1998.
Susser’s professional interests were wide-ranging and he published extensively. He did important work on peptic ulcers in Europe; the effect of infant malnutrition on human development; HIV and AIDS in the United States and South Africa; and the conceptual basis of epidemiology.
He and Stein remained politically engaged in the struggle for human rights in South Africa. They were among the founding members of the Committee for Health in Southern Africa (CHISA), which was concerned with addressing the health disparities of South Africa's apartheid policy.
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