Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, or PPHI, is the recipient of the 22nd Heinz Award in Public Policy from the Heinz Family Foundation.
Hanna-Attisha is recognized by the foundation for stepping forward to expose the presence of elevated lead levels in children residing in Flint, Michigan; for her work establishing a system of comprehensive care and support for children and families affected by lead exposure; and for her efforts to ignite a renewed nationwide conversation about lead exposure and drinking water safety.
As part of the award, Hanna-Attisha will receive $250,000 to help further her work.
“With PPHI, we are actively trying to flip the story for our kids,” said Hanna-Attisha, an associate professor of pediatrics at MSU. “We are doing work that hasn’t been done before. We very much know what lead does—that science is there. We know what it does to cognition, to behavior, to criminality and to life outcomes, and leaning on the field of developmental neuroscience, we are proactively intervening to preserve the tomorrows of our children.”
Lead has a profound impact on unborn children and those ages six and younger, whose brains are still being formed. Exposure to lead causes irreversible brain damage, developmental impairment, speech problems and an increased risk for behavioral issues, with lifelong consequences.
Hanna-Attisha has remained a central figure in efforts to change public health policy on a local and national level.
“Everyone in Flint—community partners, moms, kids, nonprofits—is rolling up their sleeves to make sure that our kids turn out okay, and really better than okay,” Hanna-Attisha said. “We have been able to establish free, year-round childcare. We are the only city to have universal preschool. We have Medicaid expansion, we have mobile grocery stores, and we have breastfeeding services, mental health support and positive parenting programs.”
Hanna-Attisha is also coordinating the establishment of a registry to track the effect of these interventions on the health of Flint’s children for decades and is a member of the recently formed Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board, which focuses on preventing lead exposure for all of Michigan’s children.
“We are honored to present this year’s public policy award to Dr. Hanna-Attisha, who in her fight to protect the children and families of Flint has embodied the qualities of courage, wisdom, compassion and grit,” said Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation. “Her unrelenting effort as a champion for truth, her continued advocacy work on behalf of those who will suffer the effects of lead exposure for years to come, and her commitment to making unsafe drinking water an issue of our nation, exemplify the tremendous impact that one citizen activist can have on our world.”
The Heinz Awards has recognized 133 individuals and awarded more than $26 million to the honorees.