The World Health Organization Prizes and Awards are given to recognize major achievements in public health. The candidates are nominated and recommended by each prize and award selection panel. The WHO Executive Board selects the winners that are presented during the World Health Assembly, which is the world’s highest health policy setting body and is composed of health ministers from member states.
During a momentous ceremony at the 76th World Health Assembly in Geneva on May 26, seven awardees were recognized for their outstanding contributions to public health. They come from Bahrain, China, Guatemala, Lebanon, Nepal, Thailand and the Philippines.
“The 2023 public health prizes and awards celebrate people who have made a significant contribution to global health, and whose work has extended far beyond the call of normal duty,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “At a time when the world faces many challenges, each is an inspiration and a reminder of the progress that can be made to improve health and wellbeing for all.”
The Selection Committee for the Emirates Health Foundation Award 2023 of the World Health Organization gave this year’s award to a Filipino doctor—Dr. Maria Asuncion Silvestre. A renowned clinician and researcher, Dr. Silvestre is a passionate advocate for exclusive breastfeeding, which is why she established “Kalusugan ng Mag-Ina” (Health of Mother and Child), a nongovernmental organization.
The WHO citation reads: “Dr. Maria Asuncion Silvestre has used her experience as a practitioner in her community and her findings as a researcher to improve the health of mothers and newborns. She designed a pioneering protocol consisting of a simple set of choreographed actions for health workers attending a mother during delivery and her newborn immediately after birth and during the first week of the child’s life. This affordable Essential Intrapartum and Newborn Care Protocol helps to bridge the health equity gap. Her work has helped save lives at national level and beyond. In collaboration with her national government and 17 other countries of the WHO Western Pacific Region, Dr. Silvestre scaled up the “First Embrace” campaign for Early Essential Newborn Care, a set of simple WHO-recommended and cost-effective interventions.”
“I designed a pioneering protocol called “Basic Care During Childbirth and Newborn Care” consisting of a simple set of procedures for health workers who take care of the mother during childbirth and the care of her newborn immediately after birth and during the first week of his life. Its aim was to propose a range of affordable interventions that could be replicated in the context of any amount of resources, thereby helping to close the health equity gap and ensuring optimal conditions for exclusive breastfeeding,” said Dr. Silvestre at the award ceremony.
“Nonseparated, the mother/newborn pair is our first food system. We should protect it as passionately and as furiously as we protect our agricultural lands, our coral reefs, and our rainforests. We sought to “rechoreograph” actions in the first minutes to hours after birth, eliminating unnecessary actions, so we formulated a timebound sequence of steps. Many health facilities in my country and elsewhere implemented the Protocol and reaped the benefits. Evidence shows that receiving at least one of the four core steps was protective, the more elements of essential care received, the more newborn survival improved. Breastfeeding saves lives,” she added.
In light of her research findings, Dr. Silvestre has made significant efforts to influence medical curricula in the Philippines and to forge close partnerships with public health authorities to expand her research and design data-driven policies to serve the most vulnerable populations. She has published numerous books and taught pro bono.
Her work has helped save countless lives nationally and beyond, having collaborated with 17 countries in the WHO Western Pacific Region to scale up the Embrace campaign for essential early newborn care.
For committing herself to the development of breastfeeding in the mainstream of pediatric education and sharing with the world her pioneering protocol called “Basic Care During Childbirth and Newborn Care”, Dr. Silvestre richly deserves the 2023 WHO public health award. We salute Dr. Silvestre for her selfless efforts that helped save lives not only in the Philippines but also in other countries. May there be more people like Dr. Silvestre in this world!