Honoring Hispanic Americans Who Have Made a Difference in the Environment and Public Health

As Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) comes to a close, we at DHEC want to take this opportunity to honor achievements by Hispanic Americans Public Health, Environmental Affairs, and Healthcare Quality as well as celebrate the wonderful work they continue to do today.

Public Health

Dr. José Celso Barbosa lived from 1857-1921. He was denied enrollment at Columbia’s University College of Physicians and Surgeons for being a student of color.

He then went on to graduate with honors from the University of Michigan in 1880 as the first Afro-Puerto Rican to earn a medical degree in the US. Considered radical at the time, he advocated for employer-based health care insurance.

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Dr. Myrna Cunningham Kain has served over 30 years to advocate for women’s health, Indigenous people, and human rights. Her appointments include: Chair for the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous People (CADPI) and Vice President of the board of the Latin American and Caribbean Indigenous People Development Fund; having served on Global Fund for Women, Permanent UN Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), and The Hunger Project boards, and as an adviser for the President of the UN World Conference of Indigenous People, and the FAO Special Ambassador for the International Year of Family Farming.

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Dr. Nora Volkow is Mexican-American and the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health. Mostly due to Dr. Volkow’s decades of research and advocacy, addiction has come to be understood as a disease of the brain. Her work also includes research into the neurobiology of obesity and cell phone effects on brain metabolism. She has won multiple awards and has published over 780 peer reviewed articles.

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Environment Affairs

César Chavez’s(1927 – 1993) is a co-founder of the United Farm Workers. He directed its efforts to warn the public and elected officials about the harmful effects of chemicals on farmworkers’ health.

In 1988, Chavez started a hunger strike to protest the pesticide and fertilizer industries. His commitment ultimately led to more scientific research and public information on the dangers of pesticides. 

As Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Conventional on Climate Change from 2010-2016, Christiana Figueres was instrumental to the rebuilding and approval of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the landmark accord uniting 195 countries to alleviate climate change. She has dedicated her career to mitigating the climate crisis, land use, sustainable development, energy, and more.

Irma R. Muñoz is the founder of Mujeres de la Tierra, a Los Angeles-based organization that empowers women to take action on environmental challenges. In 2013, she launched the Agua es Vida Campaign to address the lack of drought education and awareness in the Latino community. The Campaign includes performing mini- telenovelas in local neighborhoods to engage community members in water conservation.

Healthcare Quality

Dr. Hector Pérez García dedicated his life to the practice of medicine, political activism, and public service.

Born in Tamaulipas, Mexico, García’s family fled the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s and settled in Texas. After impressive academic and military careers, García became a physician and surgeon, eventually opening a clinic that provided healthcare to predominately low-income Hispanic families.

In 1984, García received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Ronald Reagan.

Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, PhD, RN (1920-2010) founded the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN), which is committed to advancing the health in Hispanic communities and to lead, promote and advocate the educational, professional, and leadership opportunities for Hispanic nurses.​​​​​​​

Alejandro Zaffaroni was a biotechnology innovator whose early work with controlled drug delivery methods, particularly his early concepts for transdermal patches, led to the growth of research into innovative drug delivery systems.

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