Escobar and Combs

Myriam Escobar and Ira Combs, both members of APHA’s Public Health Education and Health Promotion Section, were named “Champions of Change” by the White House. Photo by Susan Polan

Every week, the White House announces Champions of Change, honoring those who help the U.S. “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” Its latest installment features eight leaders of prevention and public health, including three APHA members: Ira Combs and Myriam Escobar of the Public Health Education and Health Promotion Section, and Andrea Hays of the Community Health Planning and Policy Development Section.

“There’s a growing focus on prevention,” said Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in announcing the awards. “You, as champions of change, represent the many different ways it can happen.”

Each of the members led a discussion on how their community work encouraged preventive screenings, reduced health disparities, promoted physical activity and healthy eating, and/or fought health care- acquired infections.

Hays directs a Community Transformation Grant in southwest Indiana, which focuses on tobacco-free living, safe physical environments, healthy lifestyles and clinical preventive services. Previously, she launched a corner store project to bring healthy foods to underserved neighborhoods, established a bike rental program, helped expand healthy meals at hospital and university campuses, and worked to increase breastfeeding rates.

Escobar, an outreach worker at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa Bay, delivers the “Yo me cuido” — I take care of myself, in Spanish — program to help Hispanic women  prevent and early-detect breast cancer. Many of the women are age 40 and older, of which 48 percent have had appropriate mammogram screenings.

“We say we are the Tampa police of mammograms,” Escobar said. “We track every one of these ladies. We make phone calls, send emails, send postcards until we make sure they have their mammograms. We go to churches, libraries, schools, beauty salons. Wherever they go, we go.”

Combs, a nurse coordinator at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, created a youth organization that has helped more than 45 young people prepare for and start college with a focus on health care education. One of his primary objectives is training African-Americans for public health practice, as evidenced by his organization’s youth mentoring program, “CPR-N-Da-Hood.”

“The requirement is that you have to teach other teenagers, family members,” Combs said. “It’s not run by PhDs, it’s run by group of teens in the community. … It’s effective and it gives the community ownership of information. And it’s [a] real cheap program because you don’t have to pay them.”