Teratology Society Past President José F. Cordero has been awarded the 2017 Sedgwick Memorial Medal for Distinguished Service in Public Health, the oldest and most prestigious award bestowed by the American Public Health Association.
An international leader in infant and maternal health, Cordero was honored for his “remarkable record of service in the advancement of public health knowledge and practice” at the association’s annual meeting in Atlanta on November 7.
Originally trained as a pediatrician, Cordero has dedicated his career to addressing maternal and child health as well as minority health and health disparities. His many contributions to public health include identifying nutritional deficiencies of infant formula, advocating for nutrient fortification in corn and flour to prevent neural tube defects in Hispanic children, promoting child immunizations in the U.S. to eliminate measles, mumps and rubella, and championing early diagnosis for children with autism.
For 27 years, Cordero served at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he focused on improving the health of mothers and children. His most prominent roles were deputy director of the National Immunization Program and founding director of the National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. In the U.S. Public Health Service, he attained the rank of assistant surgeon general. Currently, Cordero is the Gordhan and Jinx Patel Distinguished Professor of Public Health and head of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics in the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health, where he mentors graduate researchers in infectious disease studies and infant and maternal health.
Cordero currently co-directs the Puerto Rico Test site for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) Center as well as the Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development (CRECE), both of which examine how exposure to environmental contaminants contributes to the high rate of preterm birth in Puerto Rico.
When the Zika epidemic began in 2015, the PROTECT Center was poised to assist the CDC with Zika surveillance and prevention efforts in Puerto Rico. “At the outbreak of the Zika virus threat, he was the first to organize a conference with physicians and other health professionals to educate them and implement plans for managing the threats of Zika for people in Puerto Rico,” said Carmen Velez-Vega, an associate professor of social sciences at the University of Puerto Rico Graduate School of Public Health and principal investigator with the PROTECT and CRECE programs. “In my opinion, Dr. Cordero talks the talk and walks the walk.”
“Throughout his career, Dr. Cordero has been a dedicated and passionate teacher, mentor, and leader in public health,” said Dr. Hani K. Atrash, director of the Division of Healthy Start and Perinatal Services within the Maternal and Child Health Bureau at the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. “He has touched and affected the lives of hundreds of public health workers in the United States and globally, including my own.”
Cordero joined the Teratology Society in 1982 and served as its President for the 1996-1997 term. Currently he serves on the Teratology Society's Public Affairs and Continuing Medical Education Committees. Last summer, at the Teratology Society's 57th Annual Meeting, Cordero co-chaired, along with then President Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, an Update on the Zika Virus. He has also been featured in the Society's Meet a Member series.
“I’m honored for this recognition and in awe for the many distinguished heroes of public health that have been recognized with this award,” said Cordero. “Public health work requires a community, and this recognition goes to the many wonderful colleagues that I have worked with during my career.”