Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Zimbabwean Physician is Winner of 2009 Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights

HealthRight International is pleased to announce the presentation of the 2009 Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights to Dr. Douglas Gwatidzo, a Zimbabwean physician, human rights advocate, and chairperson of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR). 

Dr. Gwatidzo is one of a group of courageous physicians who founded ZADHR in response to the failure of the Zimbabwe Medical Association to speak out against human rights violation by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.  There were only 26 physicians present at ZADHR’s first meeting in 2002; today, the organization has grown to more than 300.
Presenting the award to Dr. Gwatidzo, Dr. Victoria Sharp, Board President of HealthRight International, said, “In the midst of atrocity, Dr. Gwatidzo has made the choice to speak truth to power, and take a stand against torture and injustice.”
Dr. Gwatidzo and other members of ZADHR have successfully supported beleaguered fellow health workers in Zimbabwe’s collapsed health sector, mentored young medical students, provided medical and legal documentation and care for victims of state torture, and advocated for an end to government-sponsored violence.  In recent collaborative efforts with Physicians for Human Rights and the International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organizations, ZADHR has also provided the world with a glimpse of how systematic the human rights violations in Zimbabwe have become.
 As the Mugabe regime continues to lose support, torture has become more systematic and widespread than ever before. During the 2005 Murambasvina or ‘Clean the Filth’ – an unlawful campaign by the Mugabe government to displace and evict nearly 700,000 impoverished Zimbabweans living in urban slums – Dr. Gwatidzo provided medical care to the many people injured in the ensuing violence. Working long days and nights with limited resources, Dr. Gwatidzo continued to care for the wounded as he put his own safety at risk repeatedly by speaking out against the government’s bloody operation. ZADHR, under his direction, continued to issue the most authoritative public reports documenting the extensive beatings and torture carried out by the government.
Dr. Gwatidzo has been instrumental in ensuring that Zimbabwe continues to train medical doctors even while conditions deteriorated.  From 1994 – 2004, the country only managed to license a total of 120 doctors even though the university admits 150 – 200 new medical students a year.  Medical training was in shambles, student resources were non-existent, lectures canceled, and many students were victimized for being politically involved.  Dr. Gwatidzo and other ZADHR physicians organized tutorials for medical students, invited them to their offices for clinical skills teaching, and provided moral and material support for the health and human rights student group at the University of Harare. One of the judges who selected the winner of this award was told by two Zimbabwean medical students that without Dr. Gwatidzo and ZADHR, there would be no medical education in Zimbabwe.  When the Harare Medical School closed last November, Dr. Gwatidzo spoke out for the students and supported the training and organizing of a student group engaged in human rights, once again putting himself at risk.
One of the reference letters received in support of Dr. Gwatidzo’s application for this award noted: “I have observed nothing but the highest ethical behavior in my dealings with Dr. Gwatidzo. Most of his work in Zimbabwe has been at great risk, both personal and professional.  Despite these challenges (which at times have been life threatening), he has elected to remain in the country.  Most recently, after the closure of all government hospitals and the resurgence of cholera, he has selflessly provided care to the most marginalized. From what I know, his integrity in these situations is uncompromising. He is respected by both colleagues and opponents alike.”
The Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights was established in 1999 to honor Dr. Jonathan Mann – HealthRight International’s founder – and to highlight the vital link between health and human rights.  Sponsored by four organizations, Association François-Xavier Bagnoud, HealthRight International, John Snow Inc. and the Global Health Council, the award is bestowed annually to a leading practitioner in health and human rights and comes with a substantial financial reward to allow its recipients a measure of freedom to pursue their work in the important area of global health and human rights.
Click here to see a list of past recipients of the award.