With profound sorrow, I received the news that Dr. Plutarco Naranjo died on 27 April in Quito, Ecuador, at the age of 91.
Personally, and on behalf of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), I would like to convey my deepest sympathy to Dr. Naranjo’s family. Dr. Naranjo was a dear friend of PAHO, a prestigious Ecuadorian physician, a public health expert, and a renowned researcher, professor, historian, politician, man of letters, and journalist.
Dr. Naranjo devoted his career to exploring many facets of medicine from the study of allergies to hygiene, nutrition, and pharmacology, without ever losing sight of the goal of improving the health and quality of life of our peoples, especially the indigenous peoples of the region.
His research in the field of ethnomedicine in Ecuador and traditional aboriginal medicine has made a substantial scientific and historical contribution to the field of medical anthropology. His scientific work touched on numerous health and nutrition issues. In this field, he studied the properties of certain plants grown in the Americas, including potato, manioc, corn, and beans.
Born in 1921 in Ambato, Dr. Naranjo studied medicine at the Central University and later pursued his graduate studies at the University of Utah in the United States. During his career, he authored 40 books, coauthored 59 books, and published over 300 studies and articles in the journals of different countries. He was also a columnist for various national newspapers for over 60 years. The Ecuadorian Academy of Medicine, which declared him president for life, honored him in 2011 by publishing a valuable collection of articles written by academics and researchers who are familiar with and have evaluated Dr. Naranjo’s work.
He served as medical director of Social Security from 1963 to 1966, where he focused on disease prevention. From 1988 to 1992, he served as Minister of Health of Ecuador, earning national and international recognition for his work in strengthening primary health care. He was also widely known for his work in the field of nutrition for pregnant women, children under five, vaccination programs, drinking water, and health education.
Dr. Naranjo served as president of PAHO’s Executive Committee and, in 1990, became president of the General Assembly of the World Health Organization. He also served as ambassador to Germany and Poland, and represented his country in UNESCO.
He was doctor honoris causa of the Simón Bolívar Andean University and Alfredo Pérez Guerrero University; honorary director for life of the Ecuadorian Academy of History and a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain). He was also a fellow of the Ecuadorian Academy of Language and a corresponding member of the Royal Academy (Spain).
Among his many awards and decorations, he received the Central University Award for scientific research (on four occasions) and was decorated by the governments of Italy (1972); Romania (1976); and Peru (1990). He was also a recipient of the National Sciences Award; the Isabel Tobar Guarderas Award of the Municipality of Quito (1977); and the National Eugenio Espejo Award granted by the Ecuadorian government (1987); and he was decorated with the Great Cross of the Order under the Andean Hipólito Unanue Agreement (1993).
In 1993 the Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF) and PAHO bestowed on him the Abraham Horwitz Award for Excellence in Inter-American Public Health, during the 37th PAHO Directing Council in Washington, D.C.
During the PAHO centennial in 2002, the PAHO/WHO Representative Office in Ecuador paid him a sincere tribute by naming him a Public Health Hero.
In September 2011, at the age of 91, Dr. Naranjo participated in a forum with journalists held in Quito during Wellness Week, which PAHO organized during the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases in New York. On that occasion, Dr. Naranjo emphasized the importance of public policies for the prevention of these diseases and spoke about the importance of promoting the consumption of traditional foods such as quinoa, among other topics.
Dr. Plutarco Naranjo was a tireless visionary for health in our hemisphere and we will not forget his teachings. His life and his work will serve as examples for coming generations, so that they may carry forward his great legacy in the region, contributing to the spirit of Pan-Americanism that PAHO espouses.
Mirta Roses Periago
Director of PAHO