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Fiocruz researcher wins WHO award for infant mortality reduction actions


Julia Dias (AFN)


The 2020 Dr. Lee Jong-wook Public Health award was given to the coordinator of the Global Network of Human Milk Banks (rBLH in the Brazilian Portuguese abbreviation) and researcher of the Fernandes Figueira National Institute for the Health of Women, Children, and Adolescents (IFF/Fiocruz), João Aprígio Guerra de Almeida, on November 13th in a remote ceremony during the Plenary Session of the 73rd World Health Assembly. The award is a reference to former WHO director and is given to individuals and institutions for their exceptional contributions to the development of public health.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the incredible value of science and of health services. Less than a year ago, the world knew nothing about Covid-19. Since then, science has delivered incredible insights at an extraordinary speed, which has allowed the WHO to develop evidence-based guidelines and accelerating the development of vaccines, diagnostic methods, and therapies in record time. But we also acknowledge the role played by social and health workers all over the world, who have offered their services in order to prevent infections, treat the infected, and save lives. This is what the 2020 awards are about: science and service. This year’s winners run pioneer programs that have saved the lives of millions of children, have developed new digital tools to support primary care, have led researches that allowed the creation of foundations for national policies regarding maternal-infant health, have established the world’s largest human milk bank network to support breastfeeding, have translated research into innovative policies and clinical practices, among other contributions”, declared Tedros Adhanom, WHO general director, congratulating the winners of the awards delivered by the institution at the ceremony.

João Aprígio dedicated his award to the newborns helped by the human milk network and to their families, as well as to milk donors who keep the network alive. The coordinator of the network also thanked all partners who allowed this project to be built collectively: his family, his friends, the professionals involved in the network, the Brazilian Ministry of Health, the Brazilian Agency of Cooperation, and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation. “Fiocruz has been my home for 35 years. A locus of science, of technological development and innovation, where I had the opportunity to learn the true meaning of doing public health with social commitment”, the researcher stated upon receiving the award.

He made reference to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Declaration of Human Rights as milestones of his work and commitment. “The advancements obtained in countries that have implemented human milk banks legitimize the acknowledgment of the Global Network of Human Milk Banks as a global association that promotes the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly when it comes to ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being, as well as revitalizing global partnership”, he declared.

The award is an important acknowledgment in the trajectory of the researcher, who has been working on promoting breastfeeding in Brazil and worldwide since 1998, helping to reduce infant mortality. The Global Network of Human Milk Banks structured by João Aprígio in Brazil is considered an international reference, and the global network is present in 30 countries.

“Today’s award winner has proposed a new model of human milk banks, structured a national network, and expanded its network of human milk banks until it became a global project. It can be considered a real protection network for the lives of millions of newborns, based on solidarity and on the volunteer work of its members. The network plays a significant role to prevent neonatal mortality and improve the well-being of mothers”, said the president of the South Korean Foundation for International Health - Dr. Lee Jong-Wook Memorial Fund (KOFIH), Choo Moo-jin, as he announced the award.

The Dr. Lee Jong-Wook Public Health Award of 2020 was shared with the Consortium of Sickle Cell Disease, of Tanzania. In addition to this award, the ceremony also granted other awards given by the WHO with the support of public health foundations.

Read the Interview: supporting breastfeeding mothers

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