In 1985, as a new trainee member of the Canadian Public Health Association, I ticked off the secondary membership box for the division, Canadian Society for Tropical Medicine and International Health. My involvement with the organization that became the Canadian Society for International Health grew over the years leading me to seek election as Director, 1991-1993 and then to serve as Co-Chair, 1994-1996 with Nancy Edwards and Past-Chair 1996-7. Nancy and I were CSIH’s first Co-Chairs, a tradition that has been retained. Sheila Robinson of Calgary was the last solo Chair of CSIH.
During our term, Nancy and I travelled to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)’s head office in Washington DC with Executive Director Chuck Shields to renegotiate CSIH’s contract as the Technical Representative of PAHO in Canada. Unique in the hemisphere, CSIH was the sole NGO to hold contractual responsibilities to serve as the PAHO Technical Representative in a member country. Health and Welfare Canada maintained the political representative role, and they later subsumed all responsibilities. We had the privilege of negotiating with Sir Georges Alleyne who was four-term Director of PAHO. The Technical Representative role provided CSIH with a strong financial base.
In line with our hemispheric perspective, CSIH, led by board member and former distinguished civil servant, Norbert Prefontaine (1927-1996), worked tirelessly to host a landmark hemispheric meeting of indigenous leaders. The 1993 workshop (report cover depicted above) focused on indigenous peoples and health. The proceedings bear reading today for their enlightenment and as a pioneering commitment to reconciliation. Mirna Kay Cunningham Kain was rapporteur. As a Nicaraguan indigenous person, she would later become President of the UN World Conference of Indigenous People.
The idea of a Canadian Conference on International Health, first held in November 1994, was supported by the Board, partially inspired by the workshop’s success. It has continued to be the global health conference in Canada, changing its name several times over the past 23 years.
In 1994, the Government of Canada began a Foreign Policy Review, and CSIH was extremely successful in mobilizing disparate NGOs to speak with one voice on the need to focus on health. The document that emerged: Promoting health in development: Canada's challenge for a healthy international development policy, A statement of 38 organizations concerned about Health in Development, was presented to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Policy Review by Canadian Society for International Health in May 1994. As Principal Author, I was subsequently asked to serve as Drafting Consultant, Health Policy & Strategy, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), between March 1995 and November 1996 to codify the policy for Government implementation. Dr. Yves Bergevin was at CIDA at the time and led the health policy and strategy work.
These remembrances, during a small snapshot period of CSIH’s 40 years, speak to its role as policy influencer, innovator and civil society leader and to the hallmark of its impact—capacity building for those many, many volunteers who have served CSIH and its global health vision over the decades.