Charleston doctor-activist Thaddeus Bell, a prominent advocate for healthy lifestyles who has long drawn attention to health disparities between blacks and other populations, is receiving the 2013 Distinguished Service Award from the National Medical Association.

The award is being conferred today at the NMA’s annual convention, held this year in Toronto, Canada.

Bell said it is probably the greatest honor he has received.

The NMA, founded in 1895, “promotes the collective interests of physicians and patients of African descent.” It is the nation’s oldest and largest organization of its kind, representing more than 50,000 black health professionals, and was formed when black doctors, subject to segregation laws, were prohibited from joining the American Medical Association.

Bell, who has worked on institutional diversity at the Medical University and elsewhere, launched a community health initiative called “Closing the Gap in Health Care” nearly 10 years ago. He has reached out to the black community in an effort to educate people about their health and instill a sense of responsibility.

“The instructive example of your life and dedication to improving the health of others has moved the National Medical Association to salute you,” wrote NMA Chairman George Saunders in a letter to Bell.