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Dr Jose María Bengoa, 88 years old, was designated as one of the Public Health Heroes of the Americas by the PAHO, last February in Caracas (Venezuela). His own words referring to this distinction were . . . “ My only merit has been having reached an old age after working for 65 years in public health!! There have been more people that have deserved it as well…”. His work is an example of what Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world”.
Dr Bengoa is considered the world’s conscience of community nutrition, because of the emphasis he has placed on the social causes of hunger and malnutrition. He went into exile to Venezuela in April 1938, as a consequence of the Spanish civil war (1936–1939). From 1938 to 1940 he worked as a rural doctor in the villages of Sanare and Cubiro (Lara State), where he acquired important experience in community problems, especially nutritional problems “…In a period when the problem of hunger was a surprise for me (sic), something I had never thought about before…”. As a result of his professional activity there, in October 1940, he published a monographic book entitled The social medicine in the Venezuelan rural environment, in the Venezuelan Journal of Health and Social Assistance. From 1940 to 1955, Dr Bengoa developed activities related to nutrition at a national level in Caracas and founded the National Institute for Nutrition as well as two journals on this topic. From 1955 to 1974 he worked for the Departments of Nutrition at the PAHO and WHO and wrote several papers and books about community nutrition.
In a conference by Dr Bengoa in Mexico DF, in April 1991, entitled “Nutrition in local health systems” he stated . . . “And the XXIst century, which is just around the corner is going to be a century of social justice and human solidarity, where there will be bread for all . . . And if there isn’t bread for all there shouldn’t be cake for anyone, as the first FAO Director stated 40 years ago…”.
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