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UTA Social Work Professor named Fellow of UK’s Royal Society for Public Health

Friday, February 19, 2016 • Media Contact: Bridget Lewis

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Vijayan Pillai, a University of Texas at Arlington professor of Social Work and internationally recognized expert in women’s rights and reproductive health in developing countries, has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health in the United Kingdom.

Vijayan Pillai, professor in the UTA School of Social Work

Pillai joined the UTA School of Social Work in 1999. His current research is focused on examining social welfare services necessary to protect women’s reproductive health in conflict zones in developing countries.

Scott Ryan, dean of the School of Social Work, commended Pillai on his election to the Royal Society for Public Health and many contributions to an important field of study.

“Dr. Pillai is a jewel and we are so proud of his dedication to educating and mentoring students, along with his research and advocacy in women’s rights and reproductive health,” said Ryan. “Because of Dr. Pillai and other faculty members in the School of Social Work, we have one of the best graduate programs in the nation and we look with pride to the internationally-recognized educational leadership that Dr. Pillai will continue to provide."  

Pillai’s passion for women’s health issues and women’s reproductive rights stems from heartbreaking loss in 1976. His 26-year-old sister died while giving birth in India. She suffered from an ectopic pregnancy, which is when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. It is an uncommon but serious pregnancy complication that requires immediate treatment.

“She was doing well economically, but didn’t receive the right medical attention at the right time,” Pillai said. “I began to think about the women who weren’t well off, those in underdeveloped countries and unable to afford proper care.”

Pillai’s research on the matter ensued and eventually led him to social demography work in Zambia, where he became very involved in public health.

“I wrote policies concerning population issues, why they were happening and what solutions should be considered,” he said. “In the end, everything led back to a link between women’s rights and women’s health.”

The Society specifically recognized Pillai for his career commitment to the improvement of population health.  

“Being a member of a group of select public health professionals in one of the oldest public health societies in the world is truly humbling,” Pillai said. “I am profoundly grateful to be recognized in this manner and this honor will help further my opportunities to collaborate professionally, while extending my reach to vulnerable populations here in the U.S. and abroad.”

The Royal Society for Public Health represents 6,500 public health educators and professionals in the fields of health promotion, environmental health, and medicine and food safety trainers.

Pillai expressed special thanks to his colleagues and mentor, Jay Weinstein, who inspired him to pursue the field of public health and human rights while at the University of Iowa. But Pillai also credited his students for helping him achieve the honor.

“In the end, securing any type of honor is only as good as what you do next,” said Pillai, who earned the UTA Office of Graduate Studies’ 2013-14 Doctoral Mentoring Award. “Although my work has been cited for bringing better understanding to women’s rights and women’s health, I am most proud of the young lives that I have been able to impact here at UTA.”

He added: “Many of my former School of Social Work students are succeeding in a variety of ways. And, when they succeed, it is validation of my efforts, which enables me to continue my work.”

Pillai has studied reproductive health in conjunction with human rights issues in many African and Asian countries. That research led to his appointment as the editor of Social Development Issues, the journal of the International consortium on Social Development; an organization of practitioners, scholars and students in the human services.

Pillai’s previous projects include research on the role of social capital on the development of democratic attitudes in Latin American countries. He is the author of numerous studies, papers and books, including the internationally noted, “Women’s Reproductive Rights in Developing Countries (Ashgate, 1999).” In addition to the Royal Society for Public Health, Pillai is a member of the American College of Epidemiology and World Society for Ekistics.

About the Royal Society for Public Health

The Royal Society for Public Health is an independent, multi-disciplinary organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of collective human health and wellbeing. Through advocacy, mediation, empowerment, knowledge and practice, the Society advises on policy development, provides education and training services, encourages scientific research, disseminates information and certifies products, training centers and processes.

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a Carnegie “highest research activity” institution of more than 50,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UTA as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times’ 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at