Indigenous representative to the United Nations from 2011 to 2013, Nicaraguan Myrna Cunningham explains how she became associated with the field of health, about her studies in medicine in León (Nicaragua) and experience in Río Coco, where she began to connect Western medicine with the indigenous population.
A surgeon, Cunningham considers that it is necessary to recognize the benefits of indigenous health “often the only one that communities have,” and that work needs to continue to promote a comprehensive approach to health. She also believes that certain sectors need to be empowered so as not to treat them paternalistically but rather “as subjects of human rights.”
Colombian surgeon Hernando Groot recounts that in his medical career he has always been motivated to respond to why people become ill. With a Masters degree in Public Health, graduated with honors from HarvardUniversity, Groot recounts his experience directing the laboratory of Colombia’s MilitaryHospital, where there have been many cases of malaria.
He also speaks of his work at the National Institute of Health, together with personnel of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), where he began to work exclusively in the field of viruses. He also speaks of his time in New York together with Max Theiler; they were awarded the 1951 Nobel Prize of Medicine for developing a vaccine against yellow fever.
In 1963, Henry Smith, a native of Belize, began to work in Africa in a program to eradicate malaria and later in similar initiatives in Nigeria and Zanzibar. Five years later, in 1968, he participated in a smallpox eradication program in Kenya, where vaccination and isolation activities were carried out. “This continued until 1975 when smallpox was eliminated from Kenya, which made me very happy,” explains Smith.
After his experience in Africa, he continued to fight smallpox in India and later Bangladesh, until WHO declared in 1977 that the disease had been eradicated worldwide. Later he went to the Caribbean, where he participated in immunization programs against Chagas disease, diphtheria, poliomyelitis and tuberculosis, among others. When he retired in 1995, polio was proclaimed eradicated in the hemisphere. “I have had the satisfaction of seeing smallpox eradicated in the world and having helped eradicate polio,” says Smith.
Brazilian Doctor Ciro de Quadros—known for his fight against measles, poliomyelitis, and smallpox—explains his beginning in medicine when he discovered that he wanted to dedicate himself to disease prevention; his work in Ethiopia as head of the Smallpox Eradication Program in Africa; and his participation in PAHO’s Expanded Program on Immunization for the Americas in Washington.
De Quadros considers that it is important to encourage production of vaccines and drugs in Southern countries. He also believes that smallpox eradication was one of medicine’s greatest accomplishments. Finally he explains how he came to be director of International Programs at the Sabin Vaccine Institute, where he seeks to reduce the gap between vaccine development and application.
Colombian former Vice-Minister of Health Luis Carlos Ochoa explains how he came to work for the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) in Buenos Aires, Guatemala and Washington, where he held—among others posts—the position of manager of the area of Disease Control and that of Assistant Director of PAHO/WHO.
Also speaking in the video are his wife, Ámparo Mejía, and PAHO expert Helena Restrepo, who recalls that Ochoa was present at the Alma-Ata conference. Another PAHO specialist, José Pablo Escobar, also speaks, explaining that when he worked at the Ministry of Health of Antioquia, Ochoa strongly supported primary care and helped improve health planning. The video also presents testimony from his son Gabriel Ochoa and former PAHO official Gustavo Mora.
North American food scientist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor emeritus Nevin Scrimshaw produced many achievements in the fight to reduce protein, iodine and iron deficiencies and the development of nutrient supplements to reduce malnutrition in children in developing countries.
In the video interview he describes the founding and achievements of the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP), where he led the development of Incaparina, an inexpensive fortified mixture of corn and cottonseed flours that is now given to most Guatemalan children in their first year to fight protein deficiency. His support for establishing steady progress in food quality has led to substantial improvements in the lives of millions of people around the world. In 1991 he won the World Food Prize.
Argentine Dr. Abraham Sonis, dean of the School of Medicine of Maimónides University of Buenos Aires, analyzes advances made in public health, information and new technologies from his time as director of the LatinAmericanCenter on Health Sciences Information of the Pan American Health Organization (Brazil, 1976-1982) up to the present.Scientific director of the EpidemiologicalResearchCenter of the National Academy of Medicine, Sonis says that new information technology does not weaken but strengthens the role of libraries because they continue to play a key role in smart information management.
Doctor and professor of public health at the University of Alicante Carlos Álvarez Dardet, a native of Spain, speaks of the influence that former PAHO/WHO official Enrique Nájera had on him, how it was determinant for his professional career. “Thanks to him, I decided to dedicate myself professionally to public health,” he affirms.
Known for his work on the effects of democracy on health, Álvarez-Dardet recounts how he helped establish the academic public health department at the University of Alicante. Although the goal of health for all has not yet been met, he says it should continue to be a concrete objective in the midst of the economic crisis.
Colombian physician and specialist in international health Juan Eduardo Guerrero says that society should act preventively, first. “We cannot continue to repair the damage from violence, alcoholism, disasters, solely through approaches of humanitarian assistance,” he says. “We need to generate proposals on primary prevention.”
Former advisor to the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) in countries such as Ecuador, Guatemala, Argentina, Brazil, and El Salvador, Guerrero points out that the focus of health needs to shift. “Currently health is so that people don’t die. We should be working so people can live.” He considers that this involves international actions for the purpose of “generating a different primary prevention pact.”
They are the leaders fighting against protein, iodine, and iron deficiencies; they conducted research to determine the cause of leukemia; they fought against HIV in the Caribbean and helped eradicate smallpox and poliomyelitis in the Americas, among many other things. Here is a series of reports from some of the protagonists in the history of public health in the Region.
Reflections: health leaders and people’s is a project of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) to honor the voices of specialists from different fields who have made major contributions to Health in the Americas.
The health leaders interviewed include Nevin Scrimshaw (2/20/1919–2/8/2013), former founding director of the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP) and winner of the 1991 World Food Prize for his contributions to reduce protein, iodine and iron deficiencies; Christiane Dosne de Pasqualini, disciple of the Nobel Prize winner in Medicine Bernardo Houssay, and experimental researcher in cancer and immunology; and Sir George Alleyne, former director of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and advocate of equity and Pan-Americanism.
Also, Ciro de Quadros, who successfully led the efforts to eradicate polio and measles in the Americas; Sumedha Khanna, obstetrician, gynecologist, and public health professional who through PAHO contributed to most family planning programs in the Region and was the first female representative of PAHO and WHO; and María Isabel Rodríguez, Minister of Health of El Salvador.
Elsa Moreno, Dean of the Medical School of Maimónides University; Abraham Sonis, scientific director of the Epidemiological Research Center of the National Academy of Medicine of Argentina; Nicaraguan ex-minister of Health Adam Cajina Ríos; malaria experts Jaime Ayalde and Kuang Chi Liang; and El Salvador’s former minister of Health José Francisco López Beltrán recount their life and work history in the field of health.
Also reflecting on the health situation of the Americas are leprosy and tropical diseases specialist Jacinto Convit; Costa Rican former Minister of Health Edgar Mohs; former minister of Health of Antigua and Barbuda Samuel Aymer; José María Paganini, professor in the Public Health Masters program of the School of Medicine of La Plata National University; and professor Adolfo Chorny of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation. We invite you to view and enjoy these informative interviews here!