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Gigliola Baruffi with biomed in background
Gigliola Baruffi

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa public health professor emerita has won a national award for her lifelong work in maternal and child health. Gigliola Baruffi was awarded the Maternal and Child Health Lifetime Achievement Award by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration for her impact in the field.

Baruffi joined UH in 1984 and became lead of the maternal and child health training grant at the School of Public Health. She served as a professor, researcher, mentor and role model for 21 years at the university.

“Dr. Baruffi has been a truly inspirational leader to many health professionals, across the globe, across decades, and across cultures,” said Tetine Sentell, director of the Office of Public Health Studies (OPHS). “The award was given to Baruffi for her distinguished service, inspirational leadership, and positive impact on the field of maternal and child health.”

“I’m thrilled to win this recognition,” Baruffi said. “Studying and taking care of women and children and training other professionals have been the centerpieces of my life’s work.”

Baruffi attended medical school in Italy in the 1950s. Her work in public health began when, as a young physician in India, she realized that she kept seeing the same children return to her clinic to be treated. “It just clicked—we needed to do something to prevent these kids from developing these illnesses, rather than just continue treating them,” Baruffi said.

The experience spurred her to pursue her master of public health at Johns Hopkins University. Later, she traveled to Bangladesh and worked for the World Health Organization and the World Bank in maternal and child health and family planning before joining UH.

Inspiring the next generation

“Dr. Baruffi created a pipeline for future health professionals to enter the maternal and child health workforce in the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands, including Guam, Micronesia, Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands and Palau,“ said Elizabeth McFarlane, an associate professor in OPHS and one of Baruffi’s many mentees. “Graduates of Dr. Baruffi’s training program have become directors and ministers of health throughout the Pacific.”

A key part of her work was recognizing the disadvantaged environments in which maternal and child health professionals in the Pacific operated. Baruffi showed them that they belong in national discussions and are an important part of the professional community. She developed culturally appropriate materials and taught them the skills necessary to implement grant-based programs in their communities.

Now retired, Baruffi knows that the next generation of public health and medical professionals will carry on her work. “The best of this work is inspiring others to take on important research in women’s and children’s health and work towards greater health equity around the world,” she said.

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