Rare Book & Manuscript Library

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

Summary Information


This collection documents the efforts of the Committee for Health in Southern Africa, a human rights organization once based in New York State, in its attempts improve the health of the people of Southern Africa through research, education, training, and consultation.

At a Glance

Call No.: HR#0006
Bib ID 6605663 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Committee for Health in Southern Africa
Title Committee for Health in Southern Africa records, 1981-1998, bulk 1985-1991
Physical Description 7.56 linear feet (18 manuscript boxes)
Language(s) English , Afrikaans .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.



This collection is arranged in four series.



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.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1981-1995

    This series has been divided into two subseries: alphabetical correspondence, filed either by individual correspondent name or by organization title, and chronological correspondence. There is considerable overlap and all files contain a similar mix of letters and memos between CHISA members, other human rights organizations, and medical professionals. Many discussions relate to event planning or fundraising, although others are more in-depth conversations on health issues. CHISA's president Mervyn Susser is well represented, and these files may have come from his office. There is also some material on the Maputo Workshop, but correspondence files relating specifically to this event can be found in Series III.

  • Series II: Administrative Files, 1984-1998

    Documents in this series relate to the operation and promotion of CHISA as a non-profit organization. Minutes and notes for national, board, and other meetings provide an overview of CHISA activities and goals. Meeting materials are filed chronologically but not by type; a folder may contain information about several meetings from a particular year. CHISA's national meetings were often held at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA).

  • Series III: Conferences and Workshops, 1985-1992

    Most of the documents in this series relate to the highly successful Fourth International Workshop on Health in South Africa, also known as the Maputo Workshop. Although many organizations were involved, CHISA was the primary coordinator, responsible for drafting the program, inviting speakers, and raising funds. It took two years and considerable effort to plan, in part because participating organizations were scattered across fifteen countries and faced political and technical problems that made communication impossible for months at a time. Letters between CHISA members and other organizations discuss overall goals, potential workshop sessions, speakers, and logistics. Members were particularly concerned about funding, but CHISA was able to raise enough to pay for travel and accommodation for many African delegates. In addition to correspondence, the Maputo files contain workshop outlines, conference programs, follow-ups and reports on the conference's impact, and a copy of the proceedings. This series also contains smaller amounts of information on other conferences CHISA participated in, including the Symposium on Poverty and Change in Southern Africa and the National Conference in Support of the ANC.

  • Series IV: Activities, 1984-1995

    This series contains material related to projects and causes CHISA organized or participated in.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Manuscript Curator, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Committee on Health in Southern Africa; Box and Folder; Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.


No accruals are expected

Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Mervyn Susser. Method of acquisition--Donated by; Date of acquisition--2000.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Carolyn Smith.

Finding aid written by Carolyn Smith in March 2008.

Revision Description

June 2020 PDF replaced with full finding aid, YH

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Audiocassettes Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Bylaws (administrative records) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Financial records Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Membership lists Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Newsletters Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Notes (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Press releases Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Printed Ephemera Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Programs (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Proposals Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Slides (photographs) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
VHS Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
minutes (administrative records) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
AIDS (Disease) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Anti-apartheid movements Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Apartheid Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Committee for Health in Southern Africa Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Conference proceedings Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Discrimination in medical care Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
HIV infections Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
HIV/AIDS awareness Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Human rights Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Medical care Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Mozambique Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
NAMDA (Association : South Africa) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Namibia Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Post-apartheid era Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Public health Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Right to health Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
South Africa Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

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.