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Canadian Public Health Association

Honouring public health professionals' commitment to Canadians


Ottawa, Ontario

Each year, the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) honours individuals or organizations who provide outstanding service to their community and profession. CPHA’s members nominate candidates for the awards and the recipients are selected by CPHA’s Awards Committee and confirmed by the Board of Directors. CPHA is pleased to announce the following recipients of its 2023 Honorary Awards to be presented during its annual general meeting on Wednesday 14 June 2023:

R.D. Defries and Honorary Life Membership

Dr. Cecilia Benoit’s extraordinary contributions to women’s health, equity and maternity care have advanced health practices for women and girls, especially those who are structurally marginalized. She has also made important contributions to Canadian society related to the health, safety, and dignity of street-involved youth, sex workers and people who use drugs. Her ongoing commitment to sharing research knowledge beyond the academy has led to greater uptake of social justice initiatives for these groups. Her research, scholarship and advocacy addressing knowledge gaps in equitable health care for Indigenous and non-Indigenous women, children and families led to the ground-breaking analysis of social factors that promote or impede the success of community-initiated care programs for pregnant women facing multiple challenges. Dr. Benoit’s research has and continues to benefit public health access, care, and delivery in Canada and beyond.

Honorary Life Membership Award

Wherever he worked in Canada, Drona P. Rasali excelled both in supporting and in leading processes and programs in the field of human population health. His notable achievements in Saskatchewan, where he acted as the Provincial Epidemiologist, included leading the chronic disease surveillance system for over seven years and organizing and pioneering roles in the Canadian Alliance for Regional Risk Factor Surveillance. In British Columbia, as director of Population Health Surveillance at the BC Centre for Disease Control/Provincial Health Services Authority for the past 10 years, Drona analyzed and provided leadership in population health research as well as health equity and in analysis and interpretation of health administrative data for planning, evaluation, and local budgeting. His distinguished service and interest in population health had no limits; they touched a broad expanse of chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes, and communicable diseases like COVID-19, as well as food security, community building, and multicultural programs. Drona made Canada proud by voluntarily peer-reviewing papers for several international scientific journals and collaborating in global health projects in his native country of Nepal and in Geneva.

National Public Health Hero Award
Donald MacPherson has been active in drug policy reform advocacy for three decades. In the 1990s, he was the Director of the Carnegie Centre in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside during the first overdose epidemic declared by the Vancouver Richmond Health Board in 1997. In 2000, Donald was appointed as the City of Vancouver’s first Drug Policy Coordinator where he established the “Four Pillars Drug Strategy” that called for new approaches to drug policy based on public health principles. This strategy would later be emulated by municipalities across the country as cities became involved in responding to drug-related issues in their communities.  His supervised consumption site pilot in 2002 would become the impetus for the joint municipal/provincial request for an exemption under section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.  His advocacy for a public health and human rights approach to drugs has had an important and lasting impact on drug policy reform in Canada.

Certificate of Merit

Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh has made significant contributions to the development of vaccination in Canada. She served on the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) from 2009 to 2021 and was its Chair from 2017 to 2021. It was under her leadership that NACI developed its recommendations on prioritizing populations for COVID-19 vaccination, spacing of vaccine doses, and use of the first COVID-19 vaccines. Dr. Quach-Thanh is an excellent communicator and educator who clearly and simply explains the risks of infection and the benefits of vaccination. She is a key advocate for vaccination, having been featured in the media during the 2019 measles outbreak and since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which she has given over 1,000 interviews. She has also appeared on primetime variety shows such as Radio-Canada’s “Tout le monde en parle” and on call-in shows where she answered questions directly from the audience. There is no doubt that Dr. Quach-Thanh's ability and willingness to answer questions and concerns of the public has contributed greatly to increasing Canadians’ confidence in vaccines.

The R.D. Defries Award is CPHA’s highest award. Instituted in 1965, the Award is presented annually in the form of a medal and citation to a CPHA member for outstanding contributions in the broad field of public health, preference being given to Canadian contributions and individuals who have substantially supported CPHA's objectives and activities. Robert Davies Defries, CBE, MD, DPH, LLD (Sask), DrPH (Montreal), for whom the award is named, devoted a lifetime to the interest of public health in Canada and particularly to CPHA of which he was an Honorary Life Member.

Honorary Life Membership is awarded to a CPHA member for excellence as an educator, researcher or practitioner in the field of public health, as demonstrated by achievements, outstanding research or distinguished service in the advancement of public health knowledge, practice or policy. Preference is given to individuals who have substantially supported CPHA’s objectives and activities.

The Certificate of Merit provides CPHA with an opportunity to give official recognition to an individual, group or organization for noteworthy services to public health and that furthered CPHA in achieving its objectives. Nominees are not required to be a CPHA member.

CPHA’s National Public Health Hero Award was created to broaden awareness and understanding of public health by recognizing members of the Canadian public for their significant contributions and exceptional commitment to promoting and protecting the health of Canadians.  This award recognizes an individual or individuals whose efforts have resulted in a positive difference for the public’s health at the national level. A nominee must have demonstrated leadership, originality, perseverance and commitment to the health of the public and has contributed to the health and well-being of the community from outside of their scope of work or practice (i.e., the nominee does not work in the health sector).

For more information contact:
Dolores Gutierrez, Communications & Marketing Officer
Canadian Public Health Association
Telephone: 613.725.3769, ext. 190

About the Canadian Public Health Association
Founded in 1910, the Canadian Public Health Association is the independent voice for public health in Canada with links to the international community. As the only Canadian non-governmental organization focused exclusively on public health, we are uniquely positioned to advise decision-makers about public health system reform and to guide initiatives to help safeguard the personal and community health of Canadians and people around the world. We are a national, independent, not-for-profit, voluntary association. Our members believe in universal and equitable access to the basic conditions that are necessary to achieve health for all.

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