The world is facing a global health crisis characterized by growing inequities within and among nations and millions of preventable deaths, especially among the poor.  These are in large degree due to unfair economic structures which lock people into poverty and poor health. In 2000, concerned activists, academics and health workers got together for the first People’s Health Assembly. These activists developed People’s Charter for Health (PCH), our founding document, and PHM was born.

What follows is a timeline of how PHM-USA was formed and it’s growth and work through the years.

History of PHM / PHM-USA

December 2000. PHM forms at the first People’s Health Assembly in Savar, Bangladesh

Hosted by Gonoshasthaya Kendra (Peoples Health Centre, GK) over 1,400 people assembled in Savar to discuss the failure of the world’s pledge to achieve “health for all by the year 2000” as states had agreed in the Alma Ata Declaration. Dr. Davida Coady (then chair of the board of Hesperian Health Guide), Sarah Shannon, and Lanny Smith attended. Dr. Coady was a special guest given her role in assisting with the founding of GK in 1971. 

Out of this meeting the idea of a global movement for the right to health based on to the principles of the Alma Ata declaration formed. Attendees drafted the People’s Charter for Health, which was released following the first PHM steering council meeting held in November 2001.

January 2002. Connections grow between PHM friends in the US and in Latin America  

Lanny Smith, attending the World Social Forum in Brazil, connects with some PHM-linked colleagues from Brazil and other parts of Latin America.

May 2002. PHM global approaches PHM activists in the US

Ravi Narayan, then incoming global coordinator at the secretariat based in Bangalore, India approaches Sarah Shannon of Hesperian. Narayan explained that while the original concern about involving the US/North America was due to a fear of “US/northern agendas taking over PHM ». There had been a recognition at the steering council level that this was an error and that if PHM is going to have success it requires organizing with allies in the US, given the strong role of US policies in shaping the global health agenda. PHM requested that Hesperian to help build PHM in North America and invited Hesperian to be the “focal point”.

With the view that it should not be viewed as a project of a single organization, Sarah requested that Doctors for Global Health (DGH) join Hesperian in helping to build PHM in the US. Hesperian commits to provide staff, support, and financial resources, as possible, to help build PHM-USA while reaching out to Canadian colleagues to develop PHM in Canada. It was envisioned that, together, the US and Canada could create a regional coordination along the lines of a shared agenda for activism, on topics such as right to water.

February/March 2003. PHM-USA officially launches

To help launch PHM in the US, Hesperian and DGH organized a 7 city tour of the US and invited Ravi Narayan, his wife and colleague Thelma Narayan, and Zafrullah Chowdhury to travel to the US. Hesperian, DGH, Meredith Fort (then of Health Alliance International, Seattle), Medical Missions Sisters. Friends and supporters of GK such as Sally Baughman and Maureen McCue mobilize connections and set up a tour that included public events and meetings in Berkeley, Palo Alto, Seattle, Portland, Boston, New York, and Washington DC.

July & November 2003.

In July 2003 the DGH holds its annual General Assembly in Berkeley, California where some participants make presentations about PHM. In November 2003 PHM-USA holds a meeting, hosted by Hesperian, during the American Association of Public Health annual meeting in San Francisco.

January 2004. World Social Forum in Mumbai, India

PHM Global hosts an International Forum on the Defense of People’s Health preceding the World Social Forum in Mumbai. Sarah Shannon, Jeff Conant (Hesperian staff member at the time), Lanny Smith, Connie Gates (working for Jamkhed International Foundation) attend along with several hundred other PHM activists. Sarah led the drafting committee to release the “Mumbai Declaration” that expands on the PHM Charter specifically addressing the issue of corporate-led globalization and health.

A favorite and representative story about the spirit of solidarity that is often embodied within PHM: During the opening of the forum on globalization and health (held at the YMCA in Mumbai), Sarah is sitting with a group of women from Bangladesh.  Upon hearing that there is a PHM in the US, they reach over and say to her — “if there is anything, anything at all we can do to help you — just let us know — because you are doing the hardest job of all if you are trying to make change in the US”.

Sarah and Lanny attend the Steering Council meetings prior to and following the International Forum. This is the first time PHM-USA is present at global steering council discussions.

Spring 2004.  PHM-USA launches global Right to Water Campaign

In coordination with Friends of the Right to Water in Canada (a network of activists that overlapped with PHM-Canada and PHM-USA contacts), PHM-USA launches the global PHM Right to Water Campaign with a web-based sign-on statement and other activities.  

January/February 2005.  PHM-USA initiates Save UNICEF campaign

PHM Global requests that PHM-USA take the lead in organizing against the appointment of Ann Venneman as incoming Executive Director of UNICEF due to Venneman’s close ties with Monsanto and other corporate interests.  In response, PHM-USA leads in launching the Save UNICEF campaign.

July 5 – 15, 2005.  First International People’s Health University

The first International People’s Health University (IPHU) was organized and held in Cuenca, Ecuador. PHM-USA member Tawnia Litwin (nee Queen) and several others from the US attend. Martha Roberts from British Colombia, Canada, also attends.

July 17-22, 2005. 2nd People’s Health Assembly in Cuenca, Ecuador

PHM-USA organizes a delegation of nearly 80 people from North America to attend PHA2.  PHM-USA member Todd Jailer is part of the drafting committee responsible for generating the Cuenca Declaration to summarize the discussions at PHA2.  

2006 – 2010. PHM Right to Health and Health Care Campaign

PHM-USA member Laura Turiano is part of core leadership group to develop the Global Right to Health Campaign. The campaign develops The Assessment to the Right to Health and Health Care at the Country Level that is used by health activists throughout the world. PHM-USA members helped the Campaign gain traction in many publications including the Health and Human Rights Journal and the book Realizing the Right to Health.

March 2007.

PHM-USA (represented by Jeff Conant and Lanny Smith) attend and participate actively at an Environmental Health and Justice gathering in Bhopal India, held in conjunction with the national Indian People’s Health Assembly.  

June 2007. First IPHU in the United States

The first US IPHU is organized as part of first US Social Forum in Atlanta Georgia. Here are some other links to blogs from the time:

If Another World is Possible, Another US is Necessary: First US Social Forum Meets in Atlanta

How to Truly Empower

Spring 2010. PHM grows in the Bay Area

Bay Area Health and Human Rights Learning Circle established by PHM-USA activists in conjunction with other local health activists.  

December 2010. PHM-US encounter with El Salvador Ministry of Health

In conjunction with a Health and Human Rights conference held in Los Angeles, PHM-USA (Laura Turiano, Linda Sharp, Jyoti Puvvula) organizes an encounter with the Ministry of Health of El Salvador to discuss the right to health of immigrants in the US and the initiatives and experience of the Ministry  in promoting primary health care.

June 2011. Second IPHU in the US

PHM-USA organized its second IPHU which was held in Bronx. The IPHU was sponsored by Montefiore group. 

July 2011. PHM-USA national meeting

A PMH-USA national planning meeting is held, preceding the 16th annual DGH meeting in Los Angeles. 

Fall 2011 – Spring 2012. PHM-USA part of Occupy

PHM-USA members in Boston, New York, Washington DC, Seattle, and the San Francisco Bay Area engage with local Occupy movements, providing medical care and in the case of the Bay Area (Occupy Public Health) and Boston (Health Justice), forming coalitions to build support and awareness around the issues.   

July 2012. 3rd People’s Health Assembly in Capetown, South  Africa

PHM-USA and Canada organize a delegation of 700 people attending.  PHM-USA and Canada organize an encounter of organizations from 17 countries present, and that work on mining issues. Those attending the encounter developed the statement “Defending People’s Health and Environment from Extractive Industries” and the extractive industries working group is launched.  

PHM-USA and Canada also meet with PHM Europe to explore ways that we might work together regarding issues related to the right to health for immigrants.  

At a Steering Council meeting held after the Assembly, Lanny Smith and Sarah Shannon formally complete their shared tenure on the Global Steering Council, and present PHM North America’s proposal for a shared leadership group of 3 members taking turns representing PHM North America: Leigh Haynes (PHM-USA), Baj Mukhopadhyay (PHM Canada), and Lexi Bambas Nolan (PHM-USA, as alternate) for the next 3 year term.  

During the PHA3, PHM-USA agrees to organize an IPHU in the coming year.

July 2013. IPHU in the US–Los  Angeles

Lily Walkover, Alex Luger, Linda Sharp and others from PHM-USA are the core faculty and organizers of the IPHU held at Cal State Northridge. Themes included: Environmental Justice and Right to Health for immigrants.  In addition to a strong presence from southern California, participants traveled from Jackson Mississippi, Seattle, New York, Arizona, and Texas to attend. 

January 2016. Change in leadership

Julia Robinson (PHM-USA) and Lori Hanson (PHM-Canada) take over as PHM-North America representatives on the global steering council.

April 2016. Fourth IPHU in the US–Seattle

Julia Robinson lead organizing an IPHU at the University of Washington in Seattle focusing on refugee and immigrant health rights and mental health at the University of Washington. This IPHU was a “mini-IPHU” lasting 2 days and focused heavily on identifying issues, challenges, and developing action in the community.