Hey student members! Interested in affecting how the PHR student program is run at a national level? Do you think big and get excited about health and human rights? Did you go to the national conference, and want to meet and work with some of those amazing speakers? Applications for student advisory board (SAB) and regional chapter mentor (RCM) positions are now being accepted for the upcoming year, and we encourage anyone interested to apply!

SAB members work closely with PHR leadership to coordinate priorities for the student program, manage student advocacy efforts, and work to create a cohesive body of student chapters throughout the US. RCMs are assigned a number of chapters within their geographic area, and work with student chapter leaders and SAB members as an interface between local and national efforts.

You can find the application form for both positions below. The due date is March 25, by email to cedric.h.bien[at]gmail[dot]com.

SAB/RCM Combined Application Form

We are extremely pleased to announce the 2013 Physicians for Human Rights National Student Conference at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, on Saturday, February 2.

Register or submit an abstract here: https://sites.google.com/site/phrnationalconference/.

Each conference brings together a diverse group of students and professionals that learn from one another, create lasting connections and generate innovative ideas and solutions for the advancement of health social justice. From the dynamic speakers and invigorating discussions, to the ability to network with leaders in the field of human rights, this conference is going to be phenomenal!

Speakers this year will include Dr. Allen Keller of NYU’s Program for Survivors of Torture, Dr. Makini Chisholm-Straker from Sinai’s Libertas clinic for human rights, and Dr. Jack Geiger, one of the founding members of PHR.

We encourage each interested student to fundraise for his or her own registration costs, and other expenses related to attendance (travel/lodging). Although the registration fee for a medical/health profession student is $40, PHR has made provisions to accommodate students with significant financial need; the registration fee will be reduced and calculated based on determination of need. If you feel that you qualify for aid (a reduced conference registration rate), please email us.

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Update from Bahrain

PHR has received disturbing news from Bahrain about the ongoing imprisonment of doctors for treating political prisoners. Five medical professionals have lost their appeal in civilian court, and are currently on hunger strike to protest their imprisonment. With no legal avenue remaining, they are turning to the international community to help negotiate their release. Medical neutrality is one of PHR’s core issues, and the national office is now getting ready to launch a campaign pressuring governmental officials for their release.

Take a look at the Guardian’s coverage of the story and a recent article in Egypt Daily News detailing the most recent developments.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Read the full PHR press release here.
  • Support this important work by donating to PHR or hosting a fundraiser at your local PHR chapter on behalf of this campaign.
  • Part of PHR’s strategy will also be to gather appeals from Deans of medical schools and prominent physicians around the world urging Bahrain government officials to release the physicians. Check this month’s PHR student newsletter in your email for the sign-on letter that PHR’s national office has drafted for students and/or individual Deans to sign, using their own university/institution letterhead. The more letters we help PHR collect, the stronger the campaign will be. Contact your RCMs for more information about how to hold a meeting to ask Deans at your school to sign the letter, as well as how to turn in raised funds or signed letters.

Leave a comment below if you have any questions or would like more information. I hope all of our East Coast members made it through Sandy safe and sound.

Welcome to a new year in the PHR student program! My name is Brendan Milliner – I’m a fourth year at Mount Sinai medical school in New York and a member of the PHR Student Advisory Board.  I’d like to say Hello to all of the new members out there, and I hope the rest of you had a great summer. As we go through this year, we’re going to be talking about specific themes each month. We want to help you to understand PHR’s mission, know what your chapter can do to help, and get all of you talking and collaborating about issues of human rights and medicine. We’re going to be sending you a monthly newsletter (check your email for October), and using THIS BLOG as a way for you to get your ideas out there and talk with people from other chapters about what you are doing. We have a nationwide network of students and physicians who are passionate about issues of human rights, so let’s start using that network

This month’s topic is ‘An Introduction to PHR and Human Rights’. Here at the SAB, we don’t necessarily know why each of you joined PHR – maybe you’ve always been interested in human rights, or maybe you needed an excuse to talk to that classmate you’ve been eyeing since anatomy started (anyone?). Whatever the case may be, we want to make sure everyone is on the same page about the fundamental ideas that form the backbone of PHR’s ideology. PHR is a group of professionals and students dedicated to using our training in medicine and the scientific method to research abuses of human rights around the world and advocate for victims. Being health care professionals gives us a lot of credibility, because we can speak to the personal impact of human rights abuses with a great deal of authority.

As I see it, PHR is an organization with one foot in the world of medicine and one foot in the world of law.As health care providers, we’re grounded in our training. We are learning to understand bodies and minds in a structured and rigorous way, and that gives us a powerful grounding in the practice and tradition of medicine. The legal side of things, on the other hand, is a little less straight-forward. What human rights are we talking about, and why do we have the authority to investigate HR abuses? The legal framework for our human rights work boils down to three critical international documents:

  • the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
  • the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and
  • the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

These three documents form the basis of the INTERNATIONAL LAW regarding human rights, and give us the legal authority to, say, denounce attacks on health workers in Bahrain or speak out about the use of torture in the US and abroad. The newsletter from this month included a video listing the rights from the Universal Declaration. To go along with that, here’s another clip outlining the rights contained in the two covenants. It’s simplified and a little cheesy, but it’s not bad as a place to start. And while you watch, I want you to take a few minutes to think about what each of these principles means and why it might be included.

Using their medical expertise to document and bear witness to violations of these rights, PHR has been able to mount extraordinarily successful advocacy campaigns and influence international law (stay tuned for another blog post about this). I joined PHR because I was inspired by this idea that as med students and future doctors we can use our training as powerful leverage for social change.So now I want to open up the floor to all of you:

  • Why did you join PHR?
  • What do you hope to get out of it?
  • What would you like to see from the PHR leadership in the year to come, or from me in the next blog?

Leave a comment below — even just to introduce yourself — and let’s get better acquainted with each other.

The Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 2643) is a bipartisan bill, largely drafted by PHR, that makes the protection of medical professionals and access to medical services a global policy priority for the US government. The bill also calls for the creation of a UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of Medical Neutrality. Upon introduction, the legislation was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

A Medical Neutrality Protection Act toolkit has been added to PHRtoolkits.org. This toolkit provides details on the Medical Neutrality Protection Act and actions that can be taken to support its passage. The toolkit also provides a brief introduction to the principle of Medical Neutrality, its foundation in medical ethics and international law, and violations of Medical Neutrality.

DOWNLOAD NOW: pdf Medical Neutrality Protection Act Toolkit (pdf)

The PHR Student Advisory Board (SAB) warmly welcomes you to apply for a national leadership role as a member of the SAB or for a regional position as a Regional Chapter Mentor (RCM)! Applications (pdf) for both positions must be submitted no later than April 20th, 2012.

PHR Student Advisory Board Member

The Student Advisory Board (SAB) is composed of seven to ten students from across the country. Members serve as liaisons between regional and national leaders and provide strategic and operational support related to the mission and direction of the National Student Program (NSP). Members are expected to be self-starters and motivated individuals interested in developing and strengthening the NSP. Members of the SAB are expected to be excellent in oral and written communication, time management, as they will be expected to volunteer and complete assigned duties, and teamwork leadership skills, as they will need to work well with fellow SAB members at a distance. SAB members must be comfortable thinking critically and working actively to improve the NSP during PHR’s current transition period, particularly in the face of financial and managerial support constraints.

Tasks for PHR’s Student Advisory Board members include:

  • Attend the SAB retreat in summer 2012
  • Participate in monthly SAB conference calls (with a maximum of 3 missed calls over the year)
  • Actively participate in discussions regarding the Student Program via email
  • Reach out to chapters in your region and be available via email and phone for inquires and requests for support, responding in a timely manner
  • Attend and provide guidance for the National PHR Student Conference in early 2013

The average time commitment for the Student Advisory Board is 10-12 hours per month, with peak activity at the beginning of the fall semester, the approach of the National Conference, and the closing of the academic year. Members generally remain on the SAB until graduation.

Desired qualifications include:

  • Commitment to the PHR Student Program’s mission to advance health professional students’ understanding of and lifelong investment in health and human rights activism
  • Prior organizing, advocacy, activism, and leadership experience
  • Excellent oral and written communications skills

PHR Regional Chapter Mentor

The Regional Chapter Mentor (RCM) serves the critical role of providing peer-based advising and support to student chapter leaders in the RCM’s region to aid in these chapters’ development and organizing. Mentors will liaise between chapters, SAB, and staff. Mentors will be selected for their personal experiences and passion for chapter organizing, developing a peer-based network, and promoting inter-chapter collaboration.

Tasks for PHR RCMs include:

  • Reach out via phone, email, or in-person to student chapters on a quarterly basis, and be available for chapter inquiries and requests for support, responding in a timely manner
  • Promote inter-chapter collaboration and participation in PHR events and advocacy initiatives
  • Communicate regularly with the SAB by phone or email
  • Facilitate a networking opportunity for your region at the 2013 National Conference

The average time commitment for the Regional Student Chapter Mentor is 3-4 hours per month, with peak activity at the beginning of the fall semester, the approach of the National Conference, and the closing of the academic year.

Desired qualifications include:

  • Commitment to the PHR Student Program’s mission to advance health professional students’ understanding of and lifelong investment in health and human rights activism
  • Prior organizing, advocacy, activism, and leadership experience is preferred, but not required
  • Excellent oral and written communications skills

Application for PHR SAB and RCM Positions

This application must be submitted to phr.sab[at]gmail[dot]com no later than April 20, 2012.

  PHR SAB RCM Application 2012

For questions please contact Shaheja Sitafalwalla at shaheja[at]gmail[dot]com.

I have been working at PHR for more than two decades now, and I recognize the extraordinary value of collaboration in the movement to protect and defend the human rights of all people. I’m also convinced that students count among our most passionate advocates. For both of these reasons, I’m writing to encourage you to come to the 2012 PHR National Conference, Sustainable Connections & Collaborations for Health & Human Rights.

Sujal Parikh and Susannah Sirkin photo

Susannah Sirkin presenting Sujal Parikh with the "Emerging Leader" award at the 2009 National Student Conference.

As you probably know by now, it’s being held this year in conjunction with the University of Michigan’s Second Annual Sujal Parikh Memorial Symposium for Health & Social Justice. I had the privilege of knowing Sujal through his active and enthusiastic participation with PHR, and was impressed by the ways he constantly sought to connect with other people passionate about health and human rights. So this collaboration is particularly fitting.

The student program has lined up a fantastic array of speakers, including keynote speakers Drs. Arash and Kamiar Alaei, our Iranian colleagues who treated HIV in Iran and ended up in prison as a result of their efforts.

So I hope that you will join us on March 24 and 25 at the University of Michigan, to learn from each other, brainstorm together, and reinvigorate all of our commitment to the right to health for all people.

Register (for free!) at sujalsymposium.org.

There you’ll also find more information on all of the inspiring speakers that the PHR student program has lined up. They are all interested in meeting you, our student advocates. I certainly know that I personally am very much looking forward to connecting with you in Michigan next month.

Hope to see you there!

Yesterday, we gathered with a group of other students on Yale’s central quad to rally for the rights of drug users. We held signs reading, “Ban the Ban!” and “Clean Needles Save Lives!” One girl even dressed up as a needle. Passersby took photos or stopped to collect the small flyers we were handing out. Others just stared or hurried to the other side of the quad. A local newspaper sent reporters to take photos and write a story about our rally to end the federal ban on syringe exchange funding.

Syringe exchange programs (SEPs) allow injection drug users to trade used needles for sterile needles. Giving drug users access to clean needles protects them and those around them from HIV and other blood-borne diseases. Epidemiologic studies have shown that the presence of an SEP in a community does not increase drug use and reduces transmission of HIV. According to a study published in Social Science and Medicine in 2002, HIV prevalence steadily decreased by about 5.8% in cities with SEPs, and increased by about the same amount in cities that lacked the programs.

Congress initially lifted the 20-year ban on federal funding for syringe exchange in December 2009 due to enormous pressure from numerous policy advocates, including Physicians for Human Rights. Unfortunately, syringe exchanges were once again stripped of federal funding through the introduction of language in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012—the federal budget for fiscal year 2012. House Republicans acted to reinstate the ban, and Democrats and the Obama administration failed to react. On December 23, 2011, while most of the country’s attention was elsewhere, the ban was signed into law.

The decision to ban federal funding for syringe exchange was not driven by economic concerns—syringe exchange is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce HIV transmission. It was motivated by our society’s discrimination against drug users, a population that the government has deemed unworthy of health. We are all entitled to human rights, regardless of our race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or whether or not we use drugs.

The federal ban on syringe exchange funding violates the right to health, exposing drug users, their sexual partners, and, by extension, the entire community to increased HIV risk. Every nation in the world signed at least one treaty recognizing health-related rights—the US must not ignore this right. Yet the ban could also be considered a mechanism for cruel, unusual, or degrading treatment and for punishment given without due process. While drug use is illegal, it should be punished through established legal process and after a fair determination of guilt, not through denying drug users access to evidence-based health services and increasing their risk of disease.

As pre-medical students, future doctors, we feel that advocacy is an essential part of our work. We currently lack the medical skills to heal individuals, but we can raise our voices to help end systemic barriers to health. Once we earn medical degrees, we aim to continue being advocates, building on the strategies we have already learned and using insight into the challenges confronting patients to bring issues to the attention of policymakers. With advocacy around harm reduction and drug use, in particular, the voices of medical providers and public health professionals are crucial. The public health and medical communities must emphasize that programs like syringe exchange are evidence-based and use their positions of authority and understanding of drug use to reduce the debilitating stigma toward drug users.

It is time for everyone to take action. Repeal of the federal ban on syringe exchange funding will take the same fortitude and determination that it required in 2009. We must urge our members of Congress and President Obama to ensure that the ban is not included in the fiscal year 2013 budget. We can do this using many tools of activism: gathering signatures on a petition to Republicans in the House of Representatives, bringing media attention to the federal ban, holding lobby meetings, and raising awareness in our community.

Sujal Parikh Memorial SymposiumAs medical students and health professionals, we know that promoting the health of our patients and communities is a team effort. It can take any combination of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, social workers, and patient advocates working in concert with patients and their families to make our goals of care attainable. When it comes to addressing the systemic injustices that so often underlie poor health, we expand our networks even further, joining forces with community organizers, public health professionals, journalists, lawyers, politicians, and many others in the pursuit of optimal health outcomes. That is why PHR is pleased to announce the theme of this year’s National Conference: Sustainable Connections & Collaborations for Health & Human Rights. The conference, which takes place March 24 & 25 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor,will be held in collaboration with the Sujal Parikh Memorial Symposium for Health & Social Justice, an annual symposium that brings together members of many excellent organizations that work to promote the well-being of vulnerable populations, including:

We urge students and professionals from every discipline and with any level of training to bring their talents into the mix by joining us at the PHR National Conference. You will hear from an exceptional lineup of inspiring speakers, including Drs. Arash and Kamiar Alaei, Iranian physicians and brothers who were imprisoned for more than two years due to their work combating HIV/AIDS, and who were freed after sustained petitioning from PHR members and allies. Expert-led skill-building workshops will help you hone your abilities in research, curriculum development, advocacy, and social entrepreneurship. Perhaps most importantly, you will have the opportunity to drive change and motivate your colleagues by sharing your research, ideas, and social justice-promoting projects as an oral or poster presenter. Please consider submitting an abstract! The deadline has been extended to February 15. Check out the conference program for additional details. Whether you can join us in Ann Arbor or not, odds are you know many outstanding student leaders who deserve recognition for their work promoting health and human rights. Show your appreciation for students who have inspired you by nominating them for the Navin Narayan Student Achievement Award. And please, help us spread the word about the conference!Distribute this flyer to all of your friends and colleagues so that they can bring their energy and ideas to this amazing event: 

  2012 PHR National Conference Flyer

I look forward to meeting and learning from many of you on March 24 & 25 in Ann Arbor. Together we will develop new networks to share our passions and skills, increasing our collective efficacy as advocates for health and human rights.

Fiona Danaher
PHR Student Advisory Board Member
Mount Sinai School of Medicine, M4

On March 24 and 25, human rights activists from the fields of medicine, public health, and public policy are convening for:

Sustainable Connections & Collaborations
for Health & Human Rights

a joint conference of

The Physicians for Human Rights National Conference

and

The Second Annual University of Michigan Sujal Parikh Memorial Symposium
for Health & Social Justice

March 24th & 25th, 2012 in Ann Arbor, Michigan

As a former PHR Student Advisory Board member, friend of Sujal’s, and current pediatric resident interested in continuing a career dedicated to underserved populations, this conference is particularly important to me. I am very excited about the breadth of talks as well as the academic and practical discourse that will occur between the many different health professionals and students who are coming. Among the many amazing speakers confirmed for this conference, I am particularly happy to announce that Drs. Arash and Kamiar Alaei, prominent Iranian physicians and HIV activists previously imprisoned in their home country under false pretenses, will be joining us as keynote speakers.

Please join me and others interested in health, human rights and social justice for an inspiring and educational weekend in Ann Arbor.

Registration is free, so I encourage you to register today at SujalSymposium.org.

There you will also find our current conference agenda, a list of speakers, and information about submitting abstracts for poster presentations (deadline is January 30, although extensions may be possible by contacting us). I look forward to seeing you!

Katie Ratzan Peeler
University of Michigan Pediatrics House Officer
Former PHR Student Advisory Board Member