Jamaican Doctor Recognized as Health Leader by World Health Organization

Dr Peter Figueroa (centre) with his plaque.

Switzerland, Tuesday May 21, 2019
– Jamaican doctor and professor, Peter Figueroa,
has been recognized at the World Health Assembly as a health leader for his
substantial contribution to public health in Jamaica, the Caribbean, the
Americas and the world,  over the past
four decades.

Dr Figueroa, a Professor of
Public Health, Epidemiology and HIV-AIDS at the University of the West Indies
in Jamaica, received a plaque from the Director General of the World Health
Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus yesterday.

“This recognition means a lot to me. It is a true honour. I’ve been working in public health for 40 years and believe that I am an example, like many other health workers, of someone who commits their life to trying to help others,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed working in public health and it is an honor for me to make a contribution.”

After gaining his medical
degree, Dr Figueroa worked in Public Health in Jamaica during the 1970s,
contributing to the movement that developed Primary Health Care in Jamaica including
the introduction of community health aides, in advance of the 1978 Alma Ata
Declaration. He was awarded a PhD in 1996 by the School of Hygiene and Tropical
Medicine, University of London and has since written or co-authored more than
150 published papers and co-edited three books on a range of public health

As a young doctor, Dr Figueroa
organized his colleagues in the Government service to form the Junior Doctors’
Association (JDA), now the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA). As
President of the JDA he led doctors to improve health services and their
conditions of work. He was also a founding member of the Caribbean Public
Health Association and the Caribbean College of Family Practitioners. In 1986
he earned a United Nations Peace Medal for his service as Vice-chair of the
National Committee for the commemoration of the International Year of Peace.

Dr Figueroa’s roles over the
years have included: Principal Medical Officer – Epidemiology in the Ministry
of Health; Chief Medical Officer; Director of the National HIV-STI Programme;
Scientific Secretary and Chair of the Caribbean Health Research Council (CHRC);
and temporary advisor to WHO on a range of public health topics.

He has been instrumental in the
HIV response in Jamaica, leading the response from its outset in 1986 until
2008 and transforming it into a highly successful multi-sectoral programme. He
led the development of a national surveillance system and the investigation of
disease outbreaks, and established the Epidemiology Research and Training Unit,
where numerous research studies were conducted including an HIV vaccine trial.

In his early career he was one
of the few clinicians willing to provide medical care to HIV patients, and he
still provides medical care for scores of people living with HIV at his medical

“Many people were afraid back
then, but we had a responsibility. We had to deal with it, so I lead the
response in HIV for many years”, he said.

Figueora mobilized considerable
funding, established condom usage as a norm nationally and established the
public access anti-retroviral treatment programme. He also expanded STI
services, leading outreach for HIV testing and prevention, resulting in a
reduction of HIV prevalence among sex workers from 12 to under 4 per cent.
Professor Figueroa has been a member of the UNAIDS scientific expert panel
since 2014.

“Health is more than health. It
is having a just society. It is having the social conditions in place where persons,
special the most vulnerable are not left behind”, he said.

But his contribution to public
health in the Caribbean goes well beyond his work in HIV. He has provided
technical advice to many Caribbean countries and to the CARICOM Council on
Human and Social Development on a variety of public health issues since the
1980s. He served on the Scientific Advisory Council of the Caribbean
Epidemiology Centre and since 1989 has been the Chair of the Caribbean
Immunization Managers’ Annual Meeting. He is currently part of the Technical
Advisory Group for immunizations conveyed by the Pan American Health

Professor Figueroa currently
serves as the chair of the Caribbean Immunization Technical Advisory Group,
which advises Caribbean Ministers of Health, and as chair of the Caribbean
Certification Committee for Eradication of Poliovirus. Dr Figueroa has also
made significant contributions to public health research, with a body of
research on a wide range of public health and infectious disease topics.

He has received many awards in his country, with accolades such as the Medical Association of Jamaica President’s Award, the Jamaica Public Health Hero Award, the Caribbean Health Research Council Award for outstanding contribution to Public Health and Research in the Caribbean, and the Order of Jamaica.

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