Skip to content



 Public Health Heroes

As part of its Centennial celebration, the Pan American Health Organization is recognizing Public Health Heroes for their invaluable contributions to public health in the Americas. They come from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and fields of work and share one common goal: improving the health and well-being of the peoples of the Western Hemisphere. These Public Health Heroes represent a select few among the countless heroes behind the ongoing struggles and remarkable achievements in the quest for a healthy Americas.

The Public Health Heroes of the Americas are:

  • Dr. Carlos Canseco of Mexico, an allergy specialist practicing in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, served for many years with Rotary, including a tenure as president of Rotary International. In his work with Rotary he was particularly active in a plan to immunize all the world's children against polio. In 1982, he worked with Dr. Albert Sabin, the inventor of oral polio vaccine, in developing an aerosol vaccine to prevent measles. He is a former state health minister and serves as chairman of the PolioPlus Speakers Bureau.
  • Dr. Jacinto Convit of Venezuela is a world renowned expert in leprosy and tropical diseases. He worked with a group of researchers at the Biomedical Institute to create a model vaccine composed of heat killed leprosy parasite that treats leprosy and leishmaniasis. He is currently the Director of the Cooperative Center of Therapeutic Leprosy Research of the World Health Organization in Venezuela and Director of the Collaborating Center for Reference and Research in Histological Detection and Classification of Leprosy for WHO.
  • Dr. Mirna Cunningham of Nicaragua. Dr. Cunningham is a Miskito Indian and political leader of indigenous peoples. For more than 10 years she worked as a teacher and as a doctor in hospitals and health clinics throughout Nicaragua. She was also the Director of Research and Chair for the North Atlantic Autonomous Region in the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health. She served as Minister of Government to the North Atlantic Autonomous Region and is currently the Rector of the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua and Executive Secretary of the Inter American Indian Institute in Mexico.
  • Dr. Donald A. Henderson of the United States, directed the global smallpox eradication program for the World Health Organization and was instrumental in initiating WHO's poliomyelitis eradication program. He is the director of the Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies at Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health. Following the events of Sept. 11 and concerns surrounding bioterrorism, Dr. Henderson was named director of the office of Public Health Preparedness by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.
  • Dr. Jose Jordan of Cuba, a world-renown pediatrician and expert in nutrition, growth and development, directed the award winning Cuban National Child Growth Study in the 1970s. He is the author of five books, has contributed over 20 chapters to textbooks published worldwide and has authored more that 150 articles that have appeared in international scientific and medical magazines. He has received numerous awards and distinctions from around the world. He has been practicing pediatric medicine since 1944 and continues as professor of pediatrics and as a practicing pediatrician today.
  • The Honorable Marc Lalonde of Canada is an attorney who served as Minister of Health and Welfare. In 1972 he published proposals for a major reform of the Canadian social security system. In 1974 he published "New Perspectives on the Health of Canadians," a document that became known as "The Lalonde Report." The report was internationally acclaimed for its radical departure from traditional policies and its advocacy of health promotion by developing a blueprint for a prevention-oriented national medical system. He also served as Minister Responsible for the Status of Women and launched legislative reforms culminating in the publication, "Towards Equality of Women."
  • Dr. Edgar Mohs of Costa Rica is a former Vice Minister and Minister of Health for Costa Rica and General Director of the National Hospital for Children. Dr. Mohs in the 1970s worked on a government program aimed at eradicating extreme poverty by focusing on reforms in the health and education as a means to increasing productivity. He was part of the Directing Council of the National Council of Scientific Investigations and Technology. For the past 10 years, Dr. Mohs has served on three expert committees of the World Health Organization and is a consultant to PAHO and UNICEF on Respiratory Infections and the Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses strategy.
  • Dr. Elsa Moreno of Argentina, a world-renowned expert in the area of Maternal and Child Health. She has served as National Director of Maternal and Child Health in Argentina and as a distinguished professor in the School of Public Health and the National University and Secretary of Public Health for the Argentinean Ministry of Health and Social Action. From 1976-1989, she was Adviser to and Director of the Maternal and Child Health Program of the Pan American Health Organization. Dr. Moreno has published 140 articles and papers and 10 books in the areas of maternal and child health, clinics, public health, and research of health services. Since 1993, she has been a Professor in the Department of Public Health on the Faculty of Medicine of the National University of Tucumán.
  • Dr. Zilda Arns Newmann of Brazil is a pediatrician, public health worker and founder and director of the Pastoral da Crianca, the organ for social action of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil.This program is one of the largest in the world devoted to child health and nutrition.The Pastoral da Crianca has reduced infant mortality by more than half in the over 31,000 urban and rural communities in which they work - those of intense poverty. The program has 145,000 volunteers, of which 90% are women living below the poverty level. The program was nominated for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Dr. Ruth Puffer of the United States is a biostatistician and public health professional. She began her career in public health as Director of Statistical Services in the Department of Public Health for the state of Tennessee. Between 1953-1970, Dr. Puffer served as Chief of the Department of Health Statistics of the Pan American Health Organization, where she was the prime mover behind the Inter-American Investigation of Childhood Mortality that PAHO. During that period she conducted two important research studies: Patterns of Urban Mortality (1967) and Patterns of Morality in Childhood (1973). Today, both studies are still considered path-breaking classics of scientific literature and have had an undeniable impact on health services throughout the hemisphere.
  • Sir Kenneth Livingston Standard of Barbados is the founding president of the Caribbean Public Health Association. He is known for his work in maternal and child health, child nutrition, community involvement in public health, and medical education. He has greatly influenced public health by exploring alternatives in the delivery of health care within the constraints of limited resources by using community health aides (auxiliaries) as members of the health team. Founding president of the Caribbean Public Health Association, he has had a long career in medicine, public health and research.

Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization
525 Twenty-third Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, United States of America
Tel.: +1 (202) 974-3000 Fax: +1 (202) 974-3663

© Pan American Health Organization. All rights reserved.