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NEWS. In Memorium

Dr. Charles L. Williams, former PAHO Deputy Director

We were saddened to learn of the recent passing of Dr. Charles L. Williams, Jr., who served as PAHO’s Deputy Director from 1967 to 1979. Dr. Williams had a long and distinguished career of public health service to the United States as well as other countries, especially in the Americas.

Dr. Williams spent 26 years in the U.S. Public Health Service, working as an epidemiologist, researcher and administrator for both domestic and international programs. His posts included Deputy Chief of the Public Health Division of ICA (now USAID); Chief of the Office of International Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and Associate Director, Deputy Director, and Director of the Office of International Health of the U.S. Surgeon General. He also served as Chief of the AID Mission to Peru and represented the United States at many international health conferences.

At PAHO, Dr. Williams served as Deputy Director alongside PAHO’s first two Latin American directors, Dr. Abraham Horwitz of Chile, and Dr. Héctor Acuña of Mexico, at a time when the organization’s budget, staff and work were expanding. Drawing on his experience, knowledge and contacts, Dr. Williams provided important leadership that helped position PAHO as a major contributor to health and development in the Americas. 

During PAHO’s centennial celebration in 2002, Dr. Williams observed: “The centennial is a very important historical moment, a significant birthday of this organization, which has served the Americas well for 100 years. The people that work for PAHO are a perfectly tremendous and magnificent resource. We always had a terrific group of people working here. What is going to make PAHO move in the future has got to be the people, the staff that work here, the leadership that the organization has.”

Dr. Williams studied medicine at Tulane University and public health at the University of Michigan. He was a fellow of the American Public Health Association and a member of the American Society of Tropical Diseases and Hygiene.

He is survived by two daughters, Ellen C. Williams and Katherine W. Wineberg, as well as five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He is remembered with fondness and respect by all of us who knew him.


Dr. Mirta Roses Periago
Director, Pan American Health Organization

Walter "Bill" Umstead, former PAHO chief of procurement

We recently learned with sadness that Walter "Bill" Umstead passed away on November 7 at the age of 82. Bill served for 15 years as head of procurement at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), from 1976 until 1991. He is remembered with great respect and fondness by those who worked with him, for his commitment and competence, his fairness as a manager, and his dedication to the professional development of his staff. Colleagues recall that he viewed mistakes as learning opportunities and encouraged his employees to develop their skills and knowledge, rewarding good performance by promoting staff from within. Among his many lasting contributions, he was instrumental in the establishment of the PAHO Revolving Fund for vaccines and related supplies.

Bill was an excellent procurement director not only in normal times but also under exceptional circumstances. He played a critically important role following the 1991 coup d'état in Haiti, when an international embargo left PAHO as the only source of legally imported fuel in the country. It fell to Bill to contract tankers and arrange the safe transfer and distribution of fuel to authorized beneficiaries throughout Haiti. He also became the administrator of humanitarian flights, which were the only flights allowed under the final phase of the embargo. His strong commitment to flexible emergency operating procedures and appropriate delegation of authority were critical to meeting humanitarian needs during this crisis as well as others.

I have a very personal memory that illustrates Bill's commitment and personal engagement in solving procurement challenges. Back in 1987, we received an urgent call in the PAHO country office in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic. The National Rabies Center at the Ministry of Health had been contacted by a rural clinic in Yamasa, Monte Plata-far from the capital-reporting that a 9-month-old baby girl had been bitten in the face by a wild mongoose. She was being transported in a military helicopter to Santo Domingo. We all knew that only rabies immunoglobulin would be able to save her. I called Bill Umstead and explained the case to him. He rushed to get the immunoglobulin, telephoned Eastern Airlines, and found the next flight from Washington National through Miami to Santo Domingo. He went personally to the airport with the cold package and documentation, and spoke directly with the pilot, who promised to hand-deliver the package to his colleague in Miami. We collected the package that same night from the pilot's hands. The whole process had taken from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and I administered the globulin to the baby that same night. She survived and now must be 25 years old. I am sure she does not know that Bill saved her life.

Bill Umstead is survived by his wife Florence, his children Paul and Catherine, and four grandchildren. He continues to be admired and appreciated by his former colleagues at PAHO, as he was in life.

Dr. Mirta Roses Periago

Remembering Dr. Cláudio Marcos da Silveira

Dr. Cláudio Marcos da Silveira, a Brazilian epidemiologist who played an important role in the implementation of immunization programs in the Americas, passed away on 28 August 2012 after losing a battle with cancer. He was 76.

Dr Silveira graduated in medicine from the Federal University of Health Sciences of Porto Alegre in 1967, and completed his residency in psychiatry at St. Peter’s Hospital. Soon after, he became interested in epidemiology and after completing graduate work in public health at the University of São Paulo; he served as a medical epidemiologist in the Epidemiological Control Unit at the Department of Health and Environment of the State of Rio Grande do Sul, between 1969 and 1975.  From 1975 to 1978, he directed the Biological Research Institute, and was part of the group that advocated for polio vaccination and epidemiological surveillance in Brazil. During this period, Dr Silveira also served as a consultant for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Bangladesh, Latin America and Somalia for the Smallpox Eradication Program. During the 1980s, he received his Master’s degree in Biological Sciences, worked on the Malaria Control Program in the Amazon, and was municipal secretary for Health and Human Services in his native city of Porto Alegre.

In the late 1980’s, he joined the Expanded Immunization (EPI) team at the Pan American Health Organization Headquarters in Washington, DC.  During his years working at PAHO headquarters he collaborated in the development and implementation of several immunization strategies that resulted in the regional control and elimination of various vaccine-preventable diseases, notably the regional elimination of polio and measles, and was one of the main architects of the strategy that eliminated neonatal tetanus as a public health problem in most countries of the Americas.

After retiring from PAHO in 1998, he continued to collaborate as a consultant for PAHO, assisting Latin American and Caribbean countries in the preparation of the Action Plan for the laboratory containment of poliovirus and conducting a review of mumps data in Latin America and the Caribbean in order to determine the clinical safety of different mumps vaccines, among other tasks. His most recent activities as a PAHO consultant included participating in evaluations of Immunization Program of Latin American countries.

Dr. Silveira also loved his country and enjoyed his return to work and live there until his death. Because of his strong technical and scientific background, couple with his kindness, easy smile and dedicated work, his absence is already noticeable for those who worked with him, but also for the public health community as well. He will be sorely missed.


Last Updated on Thursday, 25 October 2012 08:11

La partida del doctor Juan Héctor Sylvestre Begnis

Crédito de fotografía:

Es con mucha tristeza que recibí la noticia del fallecimiento del doctor Juan Héctor Sylvestre Begnis este 4 de agosto de 2012, a los 74 años, por causa de una severa enfermedad. 

En nombre de la Organización Panamericana de la Salud/Organización Mundial de la Salud (OPS/OMS) y en mi nombre también, quisiera hacerle llegar a su familia, amigos y colegas nuestras sentidas condolencias.

Argentino, médico, oncólogo y sanitarista, el “Canchi”, como se lo llamaba cariñosamente, nació en Rosario, provincia de Santa Fé en 1937, y se graduó de médico en 1963 en la Facultad de Medicina de Rosario, dependiente de la Universidad Nacional del Litoral (UNL).  Se desempeñó como docente de la Cátedra de Anatomía Normal de la Facultad de Ciencias Médicas de la Universidad Nacional del Litoral. Luego se especializó en oncología y cirugía oncológica, así como en salud pública.

Desde 1965 a 1968 ejerció como subdirector médico y en 1968 como director médico asociado del Hospital Italiano de Rosario. A partir de 1968 y hasta 1972 fue subdirector médico del Hospital de Niños "Víctor J. Vilela" y fue secretario del Consejo de Hospitales de la Secretaría de Salud de la Municipalidad de Rosario. A partir de 1975 fue designado jefe del Servicio de Quirófano y Áreas Críticas del Hospital Italiano de Rosario y en 1978 asumió como director del proyecto de evaluación y propuesta de desarrollo de la auditoría médica del referido hospital.

Con una brillante carrera de cirujano especializado, el doctor Begnis abrazó la causa de la salud pública. Fue interventor en el Instituto Nacional de Obras Sociales-INOS (en la actualidad la Superintendencia de Servicios de Salud), entre las numerosas funciones públicas que ejerció.

En 2004, como ministro de Salud de la provincia de Santa Fe fue un entusiasta impulsor de leyes y logró el cumplimiento de la ley antitabaco, la disminución de la tasa de mortalidad infantil, sobre todo en los departamentos San Javier y Garay. También hizo conocer su posición favorable a despenalizar el aborto. A su tarea, se añade haber alcanzado la vigencia plena de la Ley de Anticoncepción Quirúrgica, la adecuación de los salarios de todos los agentes del área de salud, el aumento de la partida presupuestaria asignada al ministerio de Santa Fe y la renovación del equipamiento hospitalario en la provincia.

Su compromiso con la salud pública desde todos los escenarios en los que realizó sus actividades, y en particular desde la Comisión de Salud de la Honorable Cámara de Diputados de la Nación. En 2005 fue electo diputado nacional por la provincia de Santa Fe y, posteriormente, fue  designado presidente de la comisión de Acción Social y Salud Pública de la Cámara de Diputados de la Nación. 

Desde ese lugar, creó el Consejo Federal Legislativo de Salud (Cofelesa), como ámbito de discusión y consenso de políticas sanitarias de todos los legisladores de salud de las provincias argentinas, en acuerdo con el Ministerio de Salud de la Nación. Fue nombrado Presidente Honorario Vitalicio del Consejo Federal Legislativo de Salud. Como presidente de la Comisión de Salud, dio un apoyo incondicional a la Ley Nacional de Salud Mental e impulsó la creación de la Asociación de Psiquiatras y Adherentes por los Derechos Humanos (APADH). Actualmente, el doctor Begnis se encontraba cumpliendo funciones en el Ministerio de Salud de la Nación.

El 16 de julio de este año, el doctor Begnis fue declarado ciudadano destacado de Santa Fe en la Cámara de Diputados por su trayectoria en los ámbitos de la salud pública, la educación y la política santafesina. Días antes había recibido la designación de Médico Sanitarista Distinguido en el Concejo Municipal de Rosario.

Incansable luchador de la salud pública, fue un buen negociador para atraer a todos y todas a la formulación de leyes importantes para la salud cruzando por encima de las líneas partidarias y las divergencias políticas. Aunque su ausencia nos deja un enorme vacío, nos lega una inolvidable labor en el ámbito de la salud pública.

Mirta Roses
Directora de la OPS

Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 August 2012 12:25

Dr. Plutarco Naranjo, a dear friend of PAHO, dies in Ecuador

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

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 May 2012 09:03
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