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 chronology of how PHM-USA was formed, it’s growth and work through the years.

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. The organizers had not wanted people from the US to attend, and it was quite difficult for folks from the US to arrange to attend. Lanny and Sarah acted as interpreters for the Latin American delegation.

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 edited afterwards and 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 and connects with 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 and Hesperian. Ravi explained that while the original concern about involving the US/North America was due to the concern “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. Given the particular situations of health in the US vs. in Canada, Americans involved felt that Canadians should lead the effort to build PHM in Canada. However, 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 DHG organized a 7 city tour of the US and invite 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: Second 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 a right to health assessment guide that is used by health activists throughout the world. 


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.  See more.


June 2007. First IPHU in the United States.

PHM-USA organizes the first US IPHU as part of first US Social Forum in Atlanta Georgia. Here are some other links to blogs from the time:



http://hesperian.org/2007/08/31/how-to-truly-em/  (a blog post from a participant of the IPHU)


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 of Health of El Salvador in promoting primary health care.


June 2011. Second IPHU in the US.

PHM-USA organizes its second IPHU in the Bronx sponsored by the Montefiore group. See more


July 2011. PHM-USA national meeting.

PMH-USA holds a national planning meeting preceding the 16th annual DGH General Assembly in Los Angeles.


Fall 2011 – Spring 2012. PHM-USA as 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. Third 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. The “Defending People’s Health and Environment from Extractive Industries” 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), Baijayanta 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. Third IPHU in the US–Los  Angeles.

Carrie Saetermoe, Lily Walkover, Alex Lugar, Linda Sharp and others from PHM-USA are the core faculty and organizers of the IPHU at California State University, 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.  


July 2015 – February 2016. Climate Action

Over several months, PHM-USA and PHM-Canada host a series of webinars on climate action to raise awareness about the social and health impacts of climate change,  to bring together activists to talk about their work in climate justice,  and to mobilize communities toward achieving climate justice.


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 for thenext three year term.


April 2016. Fourth IPHU in the US–Seattle.

Julia Robinson lead organizing an IPHU 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.