208298 PHR's Colleagues at Risk program: The promise and peril of health professional advocacy

Monday, November 9, 2009: 9:24 AM

Sarah Day Kalloch , Physicians For Human Rights, Cambridge, MA
Susannah Sirkin , Physicians For Human Rights, Cambridge, MA
Jonathan Hutson, JD , Physicians For Human Rights, Cambridge, MA
Pete Witzler , Physicians For Human Rights, Cambridge, MA
John Bradshaw, JD , Physicians For Human Rights, Cambridge, MA
Olga Khazan , Physicians For Human Rights, Cambridge, MA
Richard Sollom, MA, MPH , Physicians for Human Rights, Cambridge, MA
PHR's Colleagues at Risk Program mobilizes an international medical and public health constituency to advocate for doctors, nurses, scientists and public health professionals who have been arrested, detained, jailed, tortured or otherwise mistreated for exercising their basic human rights and for pursuing health and human rights worldwide.

In 2008, PHR addressed the detention and conviction of Iranian brothers, physicians Kamiar and Arash Alaei, who are world-renowned for their innovative HIV/AIDS and harm reduction work. After being detained for almost 6 months, the Alaei brothers were convicted in January 2009 of “communicating with an enemy government” and trying to plan a “velvet revolution” in Iran. PHR stated that persecuting these doctors for their exemplary public health networking and outreach will inhibit medical research, science, and public health in Iran.

In July 2008, PHR, alongside other human rights and HIV/AIDS organizations and friends of the brothers, formed a coalition which promptly launched an international campaign for the Alaeis' release during the AIDS Conference in Mexico City in August. Plenary speakers mentioned their arrest, and PHR gathered over 3000 petition signatures during the conference. Two more strategic dates served as action opportunities : Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York City for the UN General Assembly in September 2008, and World AIDS Day 2008. In New York, many health professionals and students gathered for a rally at the UN. During World AIDS Day, a call from the top infectious disease doctors in the world was released. Nature, the British Medical Journal, the World Medical Association, International AIDS Society, Harvard School of Public Health and New York Medical Society among others have also released statements on this case.

Despite this extensive and innovative campaign, the Alaeis remain in jail. A Global Day of Action in May 2009 will unite health workers and AIDS activists from across the globe to advocate for the Alaeis' release. Our experience forming an advocacy campaign around this case symbolizes the potential of health professionals to rally for their colleagues—and signals the need for coordinated human rights advocacy among the world's doctors, nurses, scientists and public health professionals.

Learning Objectives:
Identify potential Colleagues at Risk Cases Identify 5 advocacy strategies successfully used to free Colleagues at Risk Formulate new advocacy strategies that capitalize on the expertise of public heath professionals

Keywords: Advocacy, Human Rights

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: As Outreach and Constituency Organizing Director at PHR, I have spearheaded many national and international advocacy campaigns on AIDS, health financing, Colleagues at Risk and more, all of which capitalize on the unique skills and voice of health professionals. I am lead organizer for the Alaei Campaign, which is highlighted in this abstract.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.