School of Public Health honors public health heroes

By Catherine Zandonella, Public Affairs

22 March 2001 | A virus hunter who discovered Ebola, a teen-violence expert, a doctor who fights for health care access for the poor, and San Francisco’s Public Health Department are this year’s winners of a prestigious award given each year by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health.

The Public Health Heroes Awards, presented last week at an awards banquet in San Francisco, are the Berkeley School of Public Health’s way of recognizing and thanking outstanding individuals and organizations for their contribution to improving the lives of people both locally and worldwide.

This year’s heroes are:

• Dr. Karl Johnson for his pioneering studies of hemorrhagic fever outbreaks and his role in identifying the lethal Ebola virus in 1976.

• Dr. Jack Geiger for his lifelong effort to bring health care access to all people and his leadership role in advocating for human rights.

• Violence Prevention Expert Billie Weiss for her devotion to reducing violence among children and adults.

• The San Francisco Department of Public Health for its role in the identification and fight against HIV/AIDS. Receiving the award on behalf of the health department will be its current director Dr. Mitchell Katz and four previous directors: Dr. Mervyn Silverman; Dr. David Werdegar; Raymond Baxter; and Dr. Sandra Hernandez.

“The individuals and organizations honored by these awards are truly heroes,” said Edward Penhoet, dean of the School of Public Health. “Each has worked tirelessly for decades to protect people from both biological and societal causes of poor health and to increase the prospects for healthy lives as a result.”

The awards also serve to draw attention to a vital discipline that often goes unnoticed. While people benefit from public health every day — when they swim in a public pool, wear seat belts or dine at a smoke-free restaurant — many do not realize the field’s contributions. Public health works behind the scenes by preventing disease and optimizing health. Since 1900, the average life span of persons in the United States has lengthened more than 30 years, and 25 years of this gain are attributable to advances in public health, according to a 1999 paper published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A 16-member advisory council made up of community, industry and faculty leaders selected the finalists from nominations by School of Public Health faculty, advisory council members and previous honorees. Each year, the council selects one organizational recipient and three individual honorees, each working on an international, national or local issue.


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