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Committee for Health in Southern Africa : records, 1981-1998 bulk 1985-1991 

Committee for Health in Southern Africa,.
Phys. Desc: 
7.56 linear feet (7.56 linear feet 18 manuscript boxes)
Call Number: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

The Committee for Health in Southern Africa (CHISA) was a not-for-profit North American human rights organization consisting of volunteers--most of them health professionals--who recognized the urgent need for better health care, education, facilities, and medical training in the nations of Southern Africa. Founded in 1984 as South Africa approached a state of emergency, the group was especially concerned about the disparity between medical care for white and black patients in that country, and about the direct effects of apartheid on health and mental health. CHISA served as the U.S. liaison with the National Medical and Dental Association (NAMDA), an anti-apartheid professional group in South Africa, and worked closely with a number of other organizations, most of which merged to become the South African Health and Social Service Organization (SAHSSO) in 1992. CHISA met its goal of improving health care for all people in Southern Africa by conducting research, educating and assisting health care workers, and raising awareness among the international medical community. Much of the group's initial work centered on resisting apartheid, and members presented the results of apartheid health studies at conferences and in medical journals such as "Lancet" and "American Journal of Public Health". Beginning in 1987, CHISA gave programs on health in Southern Africa at the annual meetings of the American Public Health Association, drawing large audiences and increasing public awareness of issues such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In 1989, CHISA organized a delegation on health and human rights which visited South Africa to study health issues, and published its findings in a monograph. CHISA members also acted as technical and professional consultants, lending expertise to many projects, including the creation of a School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape. Among CHISA's most significant achievements was a series of four International Workshops on Health in Southern Africa, held in late 1980s and early 1990s. The first three focused on the themes of Health Activism and Primary Health Care, the Health of Workers, and Women Under Apartheid. The fourth workshop, entitled New Models of Health Sciences Education and Health Care Delivery: Strategies for Change in a Time of Transition, Conflict, and Epidemic and generally known as the Maputo Workshop, was a groundbreaking event that had a major impact on South Africa's health systems. Organized and funded by CHISA with the help of many other organizations, the conference was held in Maputo in April, 1990 at the invitation of the Minster of Health in Mozambique. For the first time, representatives from all of South Africa's major health organizations met with the African National Congress Executive Committee and Health Department, government health officials from other African states, and professionals from the U.S. and Europe. For seven days, the nearly 200 delegates discussed the current state of health care in South Africa, examined the nature of and possible solutions for the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and created new goals for the transitional period. The conference represented a shift in focus from resisting and documenting apartheid to planning new policies, primary health care systems, financing, and health education for a post-apartheid state. It resulted in the Declaration on Health in Southern Africa and the Statement on HIV and AIDS in South Africa, which formally recognized the epidemic and outlined a plan for change. In 1992, CHISA took on the Human Resources Data Bank project, a database which listed North American professionals from many areas of expertise who were willing to work or volunteer in South Africa. The project aimed to create "an efficient pathway for the thousands of requests--and offers--that now move in each direction.". After free elections were held in South Africa in 1994, members of CHISA considered disbanding the group, as many of its original goals had met with success. Instead, CHISA remained for several more years with a new mission to assist in the rebuilding of South Africa.

Scope and Contents

The collection is made up primarily of correspondence, which is found throughout the files, as well as a fair amount of conference and project information. Much of the material concerns the work of CHISA's president Mervyn Susser, a South African doctor and professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, and it is likely that the files originated in his office. The collection also contains meeting minutes, newsletters and mailings, financial reports, grant proposals, and a small number of cassette tapes, video tapes, and booklets on hygiene and general health care intended for the South African public.