Former Minister of Health of El Salvador María Isabel Rodríguez is Named a PAHO Health Hero of the Americas
Washington, D.C., 28 September 2015 (PAHO/WHO) — Dr. María Isabel Rodríguez, former minister of health of El Salvador, was named a Public Health Hero of the Americas by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).
Rodriguez, a 93-year-old physician whose life’s work was dedicated to education, health and science, received the recognition form PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne on the opening day of the 54th PAHO Directing Council, which is being held in Washington, D.C., this week.
“No one better embodies the aspiration toward health for all in the Americas than Dr. Rodriguez,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne in presenting the Public Health Hero award. “You have stood firmly for that principle in your own country, in the meeting halls of the Pan American Health Organization, and as an ambassador for public health throughout your lifetime.”
Dr. Rodriguez’s career was distinguished by her tireless advocacy for the right to health, equity, women’s rights and social justice. She was the first woman dean of the School of Medicine at the University of El Salvador, the first woman rector at the University of El Salvador, and the first woman minister of health of El Salvador. Since resigning as minister just over a year ago, she has served as presidential advisor on health and education with inclusion and equity.
A pioneer in research and teaching on cardiovascular physiology, Rodriguez has throughout her life been an advocate of reforms in medical education. As minister of health, she spearheaded a transformation of her country’s health system toward an integrated, universal system based on equity, human rights, and primary health care.
During her career, she contributed to the development of teaching and research centers and the creation in Mexico of a pioneering graduate program in social medicine that combined health and social sciences to study what today are known as the social determinants of health. Rodriguez also spent two decades working at PAHO and among other accomplishments developed new approaches to education and training of health personnel aligned with primary healthcare based health systems, as outlined in the 1978 Alma Ata call for “health for all.”
“I was fortunate to join this valuable institution and to experience myself what I had admired from a distance, becoming a direct collaborator in building health in the Americas,” said Rodríguez.
Rodríguez has received numerous honors during her lifetime from academic, professional and civil society organizations for her contributions to medicine, public health and women’s rights. She also holds a dozen honorary doctorates.
PAHO’s Public Health Hero of the Americas program honors individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to improving the health and well-being of people in the Americas. In 2014, Brazilian epidemiologist Ciro de Quadros received the honor for his leadership in the process of eliminating polio from Latin America and the Caribbean. Other public health heroes have included David Tejada de Rivero of Peru, Jacinto Convit of Venezuela, and Donald Henderson of the United States.