Faculty, students and staff at the Yale School of Public Health have mounted a sustained and multi-faceted response over the past two years to protect the public’s health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In acknowledgement of that remarkable effort, the Association of Yale Alumni in Public Health (AYAPH) this year chose to honor the entire Yale School of Public Health with its first-ever Special Recognition Award.
“Despite the tremendous challenges brought about by the pandemic, the YSPH community forged ahead in the classroom, research, practice and advocacy, remaining dedicated to its mission to catalyze health for all through innovative and collaborative science, learning and action,” said Ann Prestipino, M.P.H.’80, chair of the AYAPH Awards Committee.
The award was announced during a virtual event on Alumni Day Oct. 15. Dean Sten Vermund accepted the honor on behalf of the school.
“To receive an award from one’s peers is that much more meaningful because you all have a sense of what we do,” Vermund said. “If you recognize us, that’s the highest recognition of all.”
In presenting the Special Recognition Award, Prestipino noted how YSPH students conducted contact tracing and delivered food to New Haven shut-ins during the pandemic. She pointed out the exemplary work of YPSH faculty such as Dr. Albert Ko and others, who served as key policy advisors locally, nationally and globally in helping fight the pandemic. And she shared how the school’s experts in epidemiology and infectious disease developed critical diagnostic testing and potential treatments for the deadly virus.
All of this year’s AYAPH honorees have been outstanding in their leadership during the pandemic. Others receiving awards this year are:
Award for Excellence: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Distinguished Alumni Award: Dechen Wangmo, M.P.H. ’07, Honorable Lyonpo (Minister), Ministry of Health, Bhutan.
Eric Mood New Professional Award: Lisa Huang, M.P.H. ’17, clinical pharmacist, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Indian Health Service.
Award for Excellence
The AYAPH Award for Excellence honors an individual’s outstanding contributions in the field of public health. Prestipino described Dr. Walensky as “an influential scholar whose pioneering research has helped advance the national and global response to HIV/AIDS.” Walensky is also a respected expert on the testing and treatment of deadly viruses, a crucial attribute given her current responsibilities.
“I am humbled to be the one chosen for this honor,” Walensky said in taped remarks shared during the awards event. “It seems unfair in this pandemic moment to declare a single person deserving of any award … truly, so many of us have done the work of public health every day.”
In a seven-minute-long address, she outlined some of the key priorities of the CDC under her leadership. Racism, she said, is a serious public health threat affecting “the well-being of millions of Americans and, as a result, the health of our entire nation.”
As part of its mission to protect the health of all Americans, Walensky said the CDC is recommitting itself to addressing the structural factors of racism, discrimination and historical disenfranchisement that overwhelming impact the health and well-being of communities of color, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community, women, individuals who are incarcerated or without homes and those who live in rural or frontier settings.
“We have built a system where marginalized communities are not only the most vulnerable for infection (with COVID-19), but also the least likely to receive adequate treatment and care,” she said. “I hope we, as a country, now realize what we in public health have long known, that the health of our country and world depends on optimal health for everyone.”
Prior to becoming director of the CDC, Walensky served as chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital from 2017-2020 and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School from 2012-2020. She has an M.D. from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an M.P.H. from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Distinguished Alumni Award
The AYAPH Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes the contributions and achievements of YSPH alumni who have had distinguished careers in public health. This year’s recipient, Her Excellency Dechen Wangmo, M.P.H. ’07, has earned international recognition for her leadership in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in her home country, Bhutan.
Said Prestipino: “As described by those who nominated her, Her Excellency is a wise and inspiring advocate for social and health policy in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Recently, as Minister of Health, she has led Bhutan during the SARS-Covid-19 pandemic and was instrumental in Bhutan having achieved one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.”
In returning to Bhutan after obtaining an M.P.H. in global health epidemiology in 2007, Wangmo became a tireless advocate for people with health challenges. She was a founding member of Lhak-Sam, a civil society organization dedicated to helping people living with HIV-AIDS, and also founded the Bhutan Cancer Society in support of cancer patients and their caregivers. She is currently working to improve maternal and infant health across Bhutan.
In a rare coincidence, Dechen Wangmo was not the only member of her family to be honored by Yale this year. Her brother, Dechen Dorji, M.E.M. ’01, was awarded the Yale School of the Environment’s Distinguished Alumni Award for his contributions to the fields of conservation, environmental science and management. Dechen Dorji is founding director of the country’s Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental and Research, and led the Bhutan for Life initiative, which raised more than $40 million to finance the protection of the country’s pristine network of protected areas.
Eric Mood New Professional Award
The AYAPH Eric Mood New Professional Award commemorates the contributions and career of Eric W. Mood, a beloved teacher and mentor at YSPH from 1949-1998. The award recognizes a promising new professional in public health.
Award recipient Lt. Lisa Huang, M.P.H. ’17, is currently stationed in Belcourt, North Dakota, serving the Ojibwe tribe of the Turtle Mountain Reservation as a commissioned officer with the U.S. Public Health Service. Prior to serving the Ojibwe tribe, Huang worked on a Navajo reservation, providing direct patient care in inpatient and outpatient clinical settings. She also engages tribal governments in outreach and community health initiatives.
During COVID-19, Huang raised over $2,000 to supply PPE to hospitals, police stations, homeless shelters and food pantries in reservations across the country, including the Navajo Nation, Turtle Mountain and Alaskan tribes. She collaborated with the North Dakota Army National Guard to provide COVID screening tests to residents of Turtle Mountain, and she continues to work with vulnerable and rural communities and to address health disparities in urban settings.
“Lt. Huang is an advocate and voice for vulnerable populations,” Prestipino said. “Her service and dedication to discover creative upstream solutions to eliminate health disparities in both rural and urban settings is commendable and deserves praise. Congratulations, Lt. Huang!”