A Portrait of the International People’s Health Council (IPHC)

The International People’s Health Council no longer exists. It was superceded around 2006 by the People’s Health Movement, a much larger organization led by many of the same people as the IPHC.

As web-editor, I had noticed that the last mention of the IPHC occured in Newsletter #57 (2006), and that the IPHC website was defunct making it difficult to find information about this important organization. I asked David Werner and Jason Weston about this. Below you will find some of their observations, as well as excerpts from the Newsletters, and details gleaned from the IPHC website found at the Wayback Machine.

The International People’s Health Council (IPHC) is a worldwide coalition of people’s health initiatives and socially progressive groups and movements committed to working for the health and rights of disadvantaged people. The vision of the IPHC is to advance toward health for all — viewing health in the broad sense of physical, mental, social, economic, and environmental well being. If you want to learn more about IPHC, become part of the coalition, or communicate with the regional IPHC coordinator in your area, contact either David Werner at HealthWrights, or the global coordinator of IPHC, Maria Zuniga, at CISAS, Apartado 3267, Managua, Nicaragua (Fax: 505-2 661662; e-mail: <>).

What was it?

From the IPHC website circa 2005

The International People’s Health Council—IPHC—is one of the groups that helped to organize and coordinate the People’s Heath Assembly held in Bangladesh in December of 2000. IPHC is a founding member of the People’s Health Movement and serves on the International Steering Committee of PHM. IPHC is a worldwide coalition of people’s health initiatives and socially progressive groups and movements committed to working for the health and rights of disadvantaged people—and ultimately of all people. The vision of the IPHC is to advance toward Health for All—viewing health in the broad sense of physical, mental, social, economic, and environmental well-being.

The IPHC maintains that

Health for All can only be achieved through

  • PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY - decision-making power by the people,

  • EQUITY - in terms of equal rights and everyone’s basic needs, and

  • ACCOUNTABILITY of government and industry, with strong input by ordinary people in the decisions that effect their lives.

  • The policies of today’s dominant power structures—tied as they are to powerful economic interests—have done much to precipitate and worsen humanity’s present social, economic, environmental, and health crises. Those who prosper from unfair social structures are resistant to change. They also have vast power and global reach. So today, changes leading toward a healthier world order must be spearheaded through a worldwide grassroots People’s Health Movement that is strong and well-coordinated enough so it can force the dominant power structures to listen and finally to yield.

  • The IPHC facilitates the sharing of information, experiences, methods, and resources among a wide range of persons and coalitions involved in community health work who are oriented toward empowerment and self-determination. Its goal is to contribute toward a broad base of collective grassroots power which can have leverage in changing unfair and unhealthy social structures at local, national, and international levels.

Who are welcome to participate in the IPHC?

The IPHC is an informal coalition of persons, groups and networks who identify with its vision, who endorse the People’s Health Charter and wish to participate. Although most of the founding members of the IPHC are from the South, we feel the IPHC should be a South-North network, including grassroots struggles for health and rights of the growing numbers of poor and disadvantaged people in both underdeveloped and overdeveloped countries.

Key Figures

  • Fran Baum, Australia (president Australian Public Health Association)
  • Zafrullah Chowdhurry, Bangladesh
  • Dr. Ekbal, India (leader of People’s Science Movement)
  • Ricardo Loewe, Latin American,
  • Dr. Abdulrahman Sambo, Nigeria
  • David Sanders, South Africa (coordinator)
  • Mira Shiva, India (coordinator)
  • David Werner, USA (co-founder)
  • Pam Zinkin, UK (coordinator)
  • Maria Zuniga, Nigaragua (co-founder, global coordinator)

Pre-1991: The Origins of the IPHC

from Newsletter #57 (December 2006)

Popular struggles for liberation from social injustice were taking place in many countries around the world. In many of these beleaguered nations, networks or partnerships of community-based health programs played a key role in awareness raising and mobilization of the marginalized underclass in defense of its health and rights.
As the years passed, an informal network began to take shape between health workers and programs on different continents, especially in places where marginalized peoples were struggling for more representative, health-conducive governance. The desire to share practical and empowering teaching methods led to some exciting exchanges between village-level health workers from these countries, as well as an intensified sense of solidarity. It became increasingly apparent that the struggles for “Health for All” in Central America, the Philippines, India, South Africa and elsewhere had much in common. There was a felt need for new, broader international partnerships focusing on the politics of health.
To this end a meeting of community health educators and activists from Asia, Africa and Latin America was held in Managua in December 1991. The outcome was the formation of the International People’s Health Council (IPHC), which subsequently held meetings in South Africa, Palestine and Malaysia. The IPHC, in turn, was a guiding force in the planning and organizing the first People’s Health Assembly (PHA), held in Bangladesh in December 2000. The PHA was attended by 1500 community health workers and activists from over 90 countries.

Note: The meetings in Palestine and Malaysia are not well documented in the Newsletters.

1991: The IPHC Conference

David Werner:

The IPHC started years before the People’s Health Movement existed, and was the forerunner of it. And the IPHC was an idea primarily Maria Zuyniga and I had together. Maria Zuniga is an American nurse who went down to work with the Bare Horse Community Health Program in Guatamala not very long after we started Project Piaxtla. I’m not sure how we got together first. I think she probably came across Where There Is No Doctor and we began to communicate. Then she and I became involved in starting a network of meetings and programs of the different community-based health and human rights knid of programs in Mexico and Latin America. And she’s a very good organizer and she pulled things together.

She and I had the initial idea of it, and then we invited David Sanders in, and Zafrullah Chowdhurry from Bangladesh, and a number of leaders in community health programs in different countries to hold a meeting The origignal meeting out of which IPHC was born was called Health Care In Transition of which there is a little book published.

[The initial meeting was inspired by] the Sandanistas [who] had won the revolution and had started a people’s government and all sorts of things. And our program in Mexico had been invited by the new government of Nicaragua to run a workshop training program using the discovery-based learning methods for teaching health workers and people about aspects of healthcare. People were excited by Nicaragua transforming from a very oppressive virtually dictorial system to a system with a people’s government that was really working to imrpove their situation and put in a lot of attention on health. It wasn’t long after that that the sitaution was turned upside down, and [Nicaragua] was turned into a puppet government of the US. But the IPHC came out of that. We decided to form an ongoing group, and that was the IPHC, made up of people from different countries. And we had meetings in different countries, including Palestine, and South Africa.

1992: IPHC Publishes Conference Report

from Newsletter #27 (December 1992)

“Health Care in Societies in Transition” is the report of a conference by the same title, held in Managua, Nicaragua in December, 1991. The conference, which was attended by health activists from throughout the Third World, gave rise to the International People’s Health Council (IPHC), a global network of progressive health movements, programs, and activists.* The conference participants examined the major political, social, and economic factors that are impacting people’s health in developing countries today, ranging from the International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment policies to the US-dominated “New World Order.” The group also discussed ways to surmount the obstacles standing in the way of “health for all.” The conference report is an abbreviated record of this sweeping, penetrating analysis. It is available in English (117 pp) and Spanish (145 pp). To order, please send us $8.00 per copy (California residents, add 7.25% tax).
For more information on the IPHC and how to become involved, write to the Hesperian Foundation or to Maria de Zuniga / CISAS / Apdo. 3267 / Managua, Nicaragua.

Jason Weston:

Apparently they had a hell of a time putting it together. It says the report was prepared from tapes of the meeting. “This demanding task we extend warm thanks to Martha Paharone [?] of Nicaragua. Transcriping the tapes was especially difficult, as was condensing and converting the transcription into a readable report because the original tapes were incomplete and out of order.”

David Werner:

And, partly in Spanish and partly in English. Mostly in Spanish. We had people coming from different countries speaking different languages. Martha who transcribed it was a huge help.

1996: IPHC Participates in a Workshop in South Africa

from Newsletter #33 (August 1996)

In January 1996 a small international group from the International People’s Health Council (IPHC) together with representatives from South Africa’s progressive health movement participated in an all-day workshop in Cape Town. The purpose was to place the current transition in South Africa within a global context. It became clear that different and conflicting forces are at work to shape the future of South Africa, both from within the country and beyond.

With this goal of building global solidarity from below, the International People’s Health Council in cooperation with the progressive health movement of South Africa will hold the IPHC’s 3rd International Meeting in Cape Town, January 1997. If you support the goal of a fairer, more sustainable world, consider coming. Or contribute toward making the meeting a success.

1997: Third International Conference of IPHC, Held in Cape Town

from Newsletter #35 (October 1997)

From January 31 to February 2 the IPHC held its third international meeting at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town South Africa to discuss the theme: “The New World Order: A Challenge to Health for All by the Year 2000.”
Co-organizers of the conference were the National Progressive Primary Health Care Network (NPPHCN) and the South African Health and Social Services Organization (SAHSS0). The conference was attended by over 400 persons from 20 countries.
Guest speakers included: Fran Baum, Martin Coyle, Zafrullah Chowdhury, Michel Chossudovski, Irwin Friedman, B. Ekbal, Teresa Guevarra, Maria Zuniga, David Sanders, and David Werner.

South African health workers related both the advances and new obstacles to the goal of adequate health services for all since the end of the apartheid regime. They explained that among the biggest barriers to a healthy society is the enormous inequality that still exists, with millions of people still jobless and homeless. Impatient for change, outbreaks of crime and violence have become one of the biggest threats to health.
South Africa is at a crossroad. There is still a strong movement for social justice and equal opportunity that was the foundation of the struggle for emancipation from rule by white masters. But the government is fraught with shortage of funds and scarcity of skilled administrators and planners. It is under strong pressure by the World Bank and global market to enact structural adjustment policies that would put the nation on a course of “economic recovery” (for the rich). This would be likely to further impoverish the poor, as it has done in many other countries.
Health workers from South Africa—while they are seeking their own solutions— especially welcomed the perspective of participants from other countries, who related their own, usually disastrous experiences with structural adjustment policies, and who warned the South Africans of the pro-big-business, poverty intensifying strategies of the international financial institutions and global power structure.
One of the high points of the conference was the presentation of local solutions and stories of how people at the local level have succeeded, at least in part, in safe guarding their health.
The net outcome of the meeting was a new sense of solidarity, and the recognition of the need for a united front of concerned people and groups from around the world to communicate the truth about the man-made causes of poor health in today’s world: to move toward a “globalization from below” that is both people and environment friendly.

1997: IPHC Lodges Protest Against Corportization of International Health

from Newsletter #35 (October 1997)

Jakarta International Health Conference Co-opted
Fran Baum, Australian representative of the International People’s Health Council (IPHC), attended the 4th International Conference of Health Promotion, organized by the World Health Organization in Jakarta. Fran reports on the way transnational corporations (TNCs) tried to influence health policies. She writes:
A Coca Cola executive (I kid you not) gave a keynote address and informed us of all the wonderful health promotion work Coca Cola does by creating jobs!!!
Other corporate big-shots had similar spiels. Participants from non-government organizations (including Fran and Zafrullah Chowdhury from the IPHC) were so alarmed that they signed an open letter pointing out that the private sector can also be extremely destructive to health. For a copy of the letter, or to join in the protest of the way some TNCs try to manipulate health policies to increase their profits, write to Fran Baum, c/o Flinders Medical Centre, Bedford Park 5042, Australia; E-mail:

1997 August: IPHC Meeting in Nigeria

from Newsletter #36 (December 1997)

Dr. Abdulrahman Sambo, IPHC representative from Nigeria, reports that this meeting was very successful. The decision was made to form an IPHC Chapter in Nigeria, which will be legally registered as an NGO.
A report of this first IPHC meeting in Nigeria is now being prepared. It is exciting that Nigeria has set up its own branch of the IPHC and is moving forward into action. We hope other country representatives will follow suit.
With the recent crack-down by the Nigerian government on popular movements that defend the health of the environment and the people against powerful multinational interests, it is especially important that the IPHC help build grassroots bridges between activists in different sectors.

1998: South African Conference Publication

from Newsletter #38 (September 1998)

Announcing a groundbreaking publication.
The New World Order: A Challenge to Health for All by the Year 2000
Proceedings of the Conference held at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa on Jan. 29-31, 1997.
Published by Health Systems Trust, 504 General Building, Durban, South Africa. Available from NPPHCciemrN/SAHSSO, PO Box 192, Gatesville 7700, South Africa, and from HealthWrights for US$7.00
This book documents the importance of equity and participatory democracy in the quest for “Health for All.” Essential reading for the upcoming 2nd Alma Ata Conference, in Kazakstan on Nov. 27-28, 1998.
The South African conference was organized by the IPHC together with the National Progressive Primary Health Care Network (NPPHCN), and the South African Health and Social Service Organization (SAHSSO).
The book includes papers by D. Werner, M Chossudevsky, J. Seaman, D. Sanders, A. Sambo, V. Shiva, R. Davies, P. Bond, B. Ashley, F. Baum, D. Beltran, B. Ekbal, Z. Choudhury, V. Biruta, and I. Friedman.
“Essential reading for all those concerned with health policies and people-centered development!”

2000: From IPHC to the People’s Health Movement

David Werner:

But then some of the same people invovled in IPHC became interested in starting what became—well it began again with another conference—the people’s health conference in Bangladesh, and out of that group over a thousand came to that from 70 countries or more. And again similar the IPHC they decided to start the People’s Health Movement out of the People’s Health Conference.

from ‘Plans for the People’s Health Assembly in the Year 2000’ in Newsletter #40 (May 1999)

Health for All? In 1978 the world’s nations subscribed to the challenge of achieving Health for All by the year 2000. Primary Health Care (PHC) was to be the approach to meet this goal. However, as 2000 approaches, the goal remains distant. Levels of health in many countries have deteriorated.
This deterioration of well-being of a vast portion of humanity is a growing worry for many organizations, concerned groups, and spokespersons for the poor. During the last year a number of non-government organizations in health-related fields have begun working together to formulate healthier, more equitable, more sustainable approaches to health and development. Out of this shared concern has grown the call for a People’s HealthAssembly (PHA).
First Planning Meeting. In November, 1998, a planning group for the PHA met in Malaysia. Organizations represented in the PHA
Coordinating Group include Consumers International, IPHC, Third World Network, All India Drug Action Network, Asian Community Health Action Network, Gonashasthaya Kendra, University of the Western Cape, La Trobe University, CISAS from Nicaragua, and the Dag Hammarskjold Foundaton, which is committed to help fund the Assembly. Detailed plans were discussed and drafted. Below is a brief summary of the report of this First Planning Meeting.

Before the PHA2000, many prepatory meetings took place throughout the world:

from Newsletter #43 (November 2000)

The purpose of the PHA is to give a voice to concerned people around the world, especially the disadvantaged, in the events and decisions that shape their health and well-being. Today, the health of millions of people is compromised by global economic and development policies that concentrate wealth and leave a third of humanity living on less than a dollar a day. The PHA hopes to contribute to a bottom-up approach for decision making and to a new, people-centered model of development in which all people live compassionately with one another in a social order that is equitable and sustainable.
The PHA Process is gathering more energy and enthusiasm as the Assembly is drawing near. Regional preparatory workshops and seminars are being conducted in Africa, Asia, the Arab States, the Americas, the Pacific Islands, and Australia. In many countries people have prepared stories or testimonies of the way in which the globalized economy, structural adjustment policies, transnational corporations and other powerful forces have affected their local health and quality of life. Others are building coalitions and planning united actions to work toward building fairer and healthier alternatives at the local, national and international levels.

Expecting 500 or 600 participants, 1500 people from 93 countries attended to the People’s Health Assembly 2000:

from Newsletter #44 (March 2001)

By many measures the PHA event was a roaring success. Nearly 1,500 people from 93 countries gathered at Gonashasthaya Kendra (GK), in Bangladesh, to form a worldwide coalition of organizations and movements committed to work towards a healthier, more equitable, more sustainable world. The venue was well chosen. GK is one of the most revolutionary and inspiring community-based health programs in the world. The physical and social ambiance was fabulous! No five-star hotel for this huge forum; Instead, a spacious auditorium was built behind the tranquil lakes and fields where the GK workers grow food for the community program. Building the auditorium was no easy task. Due to heavy rains and tardy funding, two days before the event the vast structure still had no roof. But miraculously it was completed at daybreak the morning the Assembly began—thanks to the valiant efforts day and night of over 1,000 workers!

But how did the GK team manage to feed 1,500 people in this rural setting? Rather than busing folks to restaurants or trucking in costly catered cuisine, they built a covey of small bamboo sheds and invited women from neighboring villages to come prepare traditional food. The chance to perch out-of-doors on handcrafted bamboo stools, eating chapatis and dhal while trying to communicate with the gracious village women, was one of the high points of the Assembly. It somehow symbolized what we were collectively seeking to achieve: an innovative yet ancient way of transcending the commercial, hierarchical barriers that separate people from one another and their dreams. It brought us down-to-earth through the common understanding of each and everyone’s most fundamental right, above all else: to have enough to eat.

2005+: The Closing Chapter

After the People’s Health Assembly, and the subsequent creation of the People’s Health movement, the IPHC continued its activism, including starting a project called the International People’s Health University, aiming to

contribute to ‘health for all’ by strengthening people’s health movements around the globe, by organizing and resourcing learning, sharing and planning opportunities for people’s health activists, particualrly from Third World countries.

By 2006, the IPHC had been superceded by the work of the People’s Health Movement, led by David Sanders. The IPHC disbanded, but members like Fran Baum, Zafrullah Chowdhurry, and Maria Zuniga continue to work under the banner of the People’s Health Movement.

The last list of Principles (circa 2005):

  • Pam Zinkin, Europe
  • Fram Baum, Australia
  • Yohinori Ikezumi, Japan
  • Eleanor Jara, Philippines
  • Jihad Mashal, Palestine and the Middle East
  • Margarita Posada, CRPSC
  • Mary Sandasi, Zimbabwe
  • Mira Shiva, India
  • Arturo Quizhpe, South America
  • David Sanders, South Africa


  • Julio Monsalvo
  • Maija Kagis
  • Rosana Pellizzari
  • Dr. Unnikrishnan PV
  • Claudio Schuftan, Vietnam