Helen Rodriguez-Trias, 72, a pediatrician and past president of the American Public Health Association who was a nationally recognized health care advocate, died Dec. 27 at her home in Santa Cruz, Calif. She had lung cancer.

Dr. Rodriguez-Trias, an authority in maternal and family health, received a Presidential Citizens Medal from President Bill Clinton for her work on behalf of women, children, AIDS patients and the poor.

Dr. Rodriguez-Trias was born in Puerto Rico and was a 1960 graduate of the University of Puerto Rico's medical school. While serving her pediatrics residency at the university's hospital, she created the island's first center for neonatal care. In 1970, she moved to New York and taught in several medical schools, including those at Yeshiva and Columbia universities.

She became an outspoken leader in the women's health movement, serving on the boards of the National Women's Health Network and the Boston Women's Health Book Collective.

She worked closely with the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse and helped draft what became the federal guidelines regarding sterilization.

As medical director of the New York State Department of Health's AIDS Institute in 1988, she helped develop programs for families affected by HIV. She continued similar work after moving to California in 1989.

In 1996, she helped found the Pacific Institute for Women's Health, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group dedicated to improving women's health and well-being. She also worked as a consultant for the International Health Programs Public Health Institute, where her focus was improving family planning and health care in South and Central America.

Her most recent work for the organization involved identifying and enlisting local leaders for reproductive health programs in countries including El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico and ensuring that underserved populations, especially rural indigenous groups, were not forgotten.

Survivors include her husband, Edward Gonzalez Jr. of Santa Cruz; four children; and seven grandchildren.