Purnima Madhivanan PhD, MBBS, MPH, an associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion Sciences at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, received the Health Gamechanger Award from the NAACP Tucson Branch during the 2022 Freedom Fund luncheon on Oct. 22.
The Health Gamechanger Award honors a community member who actively seeks health equality for all Americans, including a healthy life and high-quality health care.
“We recognize Dr. Madhivanan for her commitment to achieving health equity in communities of color throughout Tucson, the nation and globally,” said Cheree Meeks, EdD, president of the NAACP Tucson. “I recall the care, intention and consistency with which Dr. Madhivanan engaged the Black community during the height of the COVID-19 health pandemic. She gave presentations to several organizations throughout the community and shared information about the virus, vaccines, mistrust of health professionals and vaccine hesitancy within the community. She dispelled myths and cleared up misinformation. Her expertise is invaluable.”
“While I’m honored and happy that the NAACP has recognized our work, I feel the acknowledgement is better deserved by many I’ve met working at the grassroots level in our community,” Dr. Madhivanan said. “My work has been focused on trying to restore trust among people of color in health care and vaccination. The general lack of trust is killing our young people, mothers and elderly as surely as COVID-19. If this award shines a light on the public health workers, nurses and physicians that are doing their best to save the lives of our people, then I sincerely thank the NAACP for that recognition.”
“Purnima has helped me debunk the myths behind the COVID-19 vaccine with presentations to the Coalition for African American Health and Wellness, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance Townhall and the Black Caucus Tucson Chapter,” said Algurie Wilson, president of the Coalition for African American Health and Wellness (CAAHW). “We needed folks to listen to the science and not the lies. We wanted to save lives and Purnima was changing minds and getting these folks to take their vaccine. Purnima is my superhero, and we will continue to help our community to be the best it can because she genuinely cares.”
For the past 20 years, Dr. Madhivanan’s work has focused on disadvantaged populations and exposing the dynamics of poverty, gender and environmental determinants of health, particularly how they impact women and children living in rural communities. She established the PHRII/Prerana Women’s Health Initiative in Mysore, India, in 2005 while completing her doctoral dissertation. The clinic has delivered low-cost, high-quality reproductive health services to more than 24,000 women over the last decade.
Dr. Madhivanan has received several awards for her work, including a recent Fulbright-Nehru Distinguished Scholar Award, an International Leadership Award from the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and a fellowship from the Fogarty International Center for her research on the epidemiology of herpes simplex virus type 2 infection in India.
“I was really surprised about this award,” Dr. Madhivanan said. “In fact, when Dr. Meeks sent me the email about the award, I sent her back a reply saying that perhaps her email account might have been hacked. She wrote back and said that it was not hacked and that I indeed was being given the award. I believe that CAAHW and my students at UArizona deserve this recognition for mobilizing these communities and saving lives during this difficult period.”
Dr. Madhivanan joined the University of Arizona Health Sciences in 2019 and has since served as director of the Global Health Equity Scholars Fellowships, a consortium that supports fellowships for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers at UArizona, the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University and Yale University. She is currently mentoring six Fulbright and Fogarty Global Health Equity Scholars fellows who are conducting research in Ethiopia, India, Jamaica, Nigeria and Peru. Last year, she received the Maria Teresa Velez Outstanding Mentorship Award from the University’s Commission on the Status of Women.