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APHA announces 2021 awards for excellence in public health

Date: Sep 30 2021

Contact: Media Relations

Every year, the American Public Health Association honors excellence in public health leadership and innovation, from state and local health officials to those speaking up for public health from the halls of Congress.

This year’s awards will be presented Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 12 p.m. MST during APHA’s 2021 Annual Meeting and Expo, which officially kicks off Oct. 24.

“There are countless examples of public health professionals and advocates working tirelessly to confront the continuing pandemic,” said APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, MD. “The celebration of the accomplishments and dedication of this year’s honorees is also a celebration of everyone’s efforts to strengthen the field and create healthier communities in the midst of a public health crisis.”

This year’s honorees include:

Oliver Fein, MD, professor emeritus of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, will receive the Sedgwick Memorial Medal for Distinguished Service in Public Health for his commitment to serving others through clinical practice and advocacy, and his promotion of patient-centered, community-oriented care. For more than half a century, Fein has distinguished himself as a passionate leader and activist fighting to ensure all Americans have access to health care.

Carlos del Rio, MD, a professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, will receive the APHA Award for Excellence for his work as an innovative and internationally respected clinician, researcher and educator dedicated to the advancement of HIV treatment and prevention. His groundbreaking research has advanced HIV treatment and prevention in the U.S. and around the world, including Georgia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam.

Voto Latino Foundation, a grassroots political organization focused on educating and empowering a new generation of Latinx voters, will receive APHA’s Presidential Citation in recognition of the organization’s outstanding contributions to advance the health and well-being of the Latinx community in the U.S. Throughout their 15-year history, Voto Latino has provided the community with resources, educational programs and campaigns to raise awareness of social justice and health equity issues.

U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., will receive APHA’s 2021 Distinguished Public Health Legislator of the Year award for her work to improve public health outcomes for underserved populations. Underwood champions an array of public health priorities and introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, the Future Advancement of Academic Nursing Act, and the Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act.

J. Alan Baker, former APHA interim executive director and chief of staff, will receive the APHA Executive Director Citation for his longtime efforts to advance and support APHA. He has held a variety of roles in APHA’s Health Administration Section, including Section councilor, chair of both the Membership Committee and the Strategic Planning Committee, member of the Governing Council, and has recently served as co-chair of the Member Engagement Feasibility and Priority Committee.

Ruth Enid Zambrana, PhD, MSW, co-founder and director of the University of Maryland Consortium on Race, Gender and Ethnicity, will receive the Lyndon Haviland Public Health Mentoring Award for her dedication to the development of the next generation of public health professionals. An APHA member for four decades, Zambrana has mentored students and faculty in public health, medicine and the sociomedical sciences with a focus on racial, ethnic and socioeconomic inequities and disparities.

Donna Petersen, ScD, MHS, CPH, dean of the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida and senior associate vice president of USF Health, will receive the Martha May Eliot Award for her lifetime of service to the field of maternal and child health. Committed to strengthening the Title V Block Grant, she has served as a Title V consultant for numerous states and local areas, as well as the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

Micah Berman, JD, associate professor in the College of Public Health and Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University, is being honored with the David P. Rall Award for Advocacy in Public Health for his commitment to science-based public health prevention focused on tobacco policy. With expertise in local, state, federal and international policymaking, Berman has served as a senior advisor to the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products and as a visiting scholar at the World Health Organization’s Center for International Cooperation on Tobacco Control.

Donald Warne, MD, MPH, associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion and director of both the Indians into Medicine, or INMED, and public health programs at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, will receive the Helen Rodríguez-Trías Social Justice Award for his work on social justice for underserved and disadvantaged populations. A member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Warne is a physician, public health professional, tribal health advocate and academic leader dedicated to advancing health equity for American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

Séverine Autesserre, PhD, professor of political science at Barnard College, Columbia University, is receiving the Victor Sidel and Barry Levy Award for Peace for her work as a peace-builder, researcher, scholar and author. As an expert in conflict-resolution, peacekeeping and international aid, Autesserre has been a featured speaker at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, the U.S. House of Representatives and the UN Security Council.

Jingwen Zhang, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California, Davis, will receive the Ayman El-Mohandes Young Professional Public Health Innovation Award for her research on communication and emerging media technologies that promote healthy lifestyles and preventive behaviors across diverse populations. Zhang’s work has been supported by the National Cancer Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We are the only organization that combines a nearly 150-year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health. Learn more at