2012 Public Health Innovator Award

Anita Patil Deshmukh, MPH '05

After a long and distinguished career as a faculty pediatrician/neonatologist in Chicago, and her time at HSPH, Dr. Anita Patil Deshmukh returned to her native India with a vision. The government of the state of Maharashtra had supported her education and, along with HPSH, given her the tools to become who she is today – medical doctor, advocate for populations without a voice, passionate believer in human dignity and the right to health – and Anita knew she wanted to give back to her country and community, and give others the opportunity to flourish.

In 2009, she joined Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research (PUKAR), an independent research collective started by Professor Arjun Appadurai that conducts multi-sectoral, cross disciplinary research on issues related to Urban poor. PUKAR has focused on Kaula Bandar, a slum community of more than 10,000 people who, despite being located in India’s financial epicenter, have health outcomes as poor as those in the country’s rural and tribal districts. In collaboration with HSPH and New York University, Dr. Patil Deshmukh and the PUKAR team have developed a unique and highly innovative community-based participatory research (CBPR) model, in which youth from slum communities, called “barefoot researchers,” serve critical roles in informing study design, and even doing data collection. She accompanies the barefoot researchers as a mentor and as a student, teaching and modeling research methods while gaining insights that help inform a relevant and meaningful research agenda. This and other PUKAR projects have democratized the research process, one of the core objectives of the collective, and she and the PUKAR team have used the data collected to bring direct health interventions to Kaula Bandar. Their advocacy has resulted in the establishment of regular government health camps there, and the placement of a new municipal water supply to the community, the first time the slum will have legal water access in its 50 years of existence.

Dr. Patil Deshmukh’s deep and abiding care and respect for those who have not yet been afforded the opportunity to achieve their dreams, whether it be clean water for their children to drink, a better understanding of their community and the world around them or a chance to work for an organization that respects and even integrates their unique experiences and vision in its mission.

Throughout her twenty years of work with marginalized families on the south side of Chicago as a neonatologist, and as director of PUKAR in Mumbai, Dr. Patil Deshmukh connects with patients and community members with humility and respect while simultaneously recognizing broad patterns in the creation and persistence of poverty, and her emotional, financial and intellectual investment into PUKAR staff and researchers as well as the Mumbai community in which they work is truly inspiring.