The 2010 conference of the Canadian Public Health Association was illustrative for Lisa Forman, winner of the 2015 Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Award. “The event brought 533 researchers to Toronto to explore public and global health,” as she wrote the following year in the Canadian Journal of Public Health. “Yet only four papers at this conference explicitly addressed human rights – two of which were presented by the author.
“Certainly there is a small and important cohort of Canadian scholarship on health and human rights. Nonetheless, the low representation of human rights-based papers at the CPHA conference and indeed, within the pages of this journal, suggest that, beyond this cohort, human rights remain relatively marginal within the mainstream of Canadian public and global health research.”
It is a shortcoming this scholar has dedicated her career to rectifying, focusing on how human rights like the right to health can address health inequities globally. The 2006 dissertation that earned her a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from U of T Law examined the role played by international human rights law in access to AIDS treatment in South Africa. After further postdoctoral work on rights, trade and essential medicines, she was appointed director of the Comparative Program on Health and Society and Lupina Assistant Professor in Global Health and Human Rights, a position administered jointly by the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Munk School of Global Affairs.
The transformation of this professorship into a tenure-track position says something about the growing interest in human rights and global health and Professor Forman’s singular efforts to make the connection clear. Another measure of her impact is the $800,000 in grant funding she has attracted as a principal investigator and the more than $3 million that has been dedicated to projects in which she is co-investigator.
Professor Forman came by her interest in human rights naturally. A native of South Africa, she earned her BA at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 1990, before the official repeal of apartheid, and her Bachelor of Law in 1993, while the National Party was still in power. In 1995, she qualified as an attorney of the High Court of South Africa, and took up work with the AIDS Law Project at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies in Johannesburg.
Professor Forman earned her Master’s degree in Human Rights Studies at Columbia University in 2001. Her focus was on international legal obligations and the HIV epidemic. During her doctoral studies at the University of Toronto, she travelled to Kenya and Zambia on behalf of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and in 2004 was a Canadian delegate to the Institute of Gender and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa. Closer to home, in 2009, Professor Forman provided consulting support to the Ontario Working Group on Criminalization and HIV, as well as to the Office of the UN High Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. She has published 30 journal articles and 21 book chapters, almost two thirds sole or lead author. She was also the lead editor of the book Access to Medicines as a Human Right: Implications for Pharmaceutical Industry Responsibility.
“I do not suggest that human rights can single-handedly resolve widening health disparities,” Professor Forman says, “simply that there is increasingly strong recognition of their contribution as complementary powerful principles to drive the public and global health project.”
The Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize is presented along with several other faculty, staff and student awards under the banner of Awards of Excellence. A list of this year’s recipients and their citations can be viewed on the Awards of Excellence website. This award program annually recognizes the outstanding members of the University of Toronto community who have made rich and meaningful contributions to the University, their communities and to the world.
Alumni Relations within the Division of University Advancement is the steward of the Awards of Excellence program on behalf of the University of Toronto Alumni Association, and co-ordinates the vital contributions of other University stakeholder groups toward this prestigious award program.
Professor Forman and the other 2015 Awards of Excellence recipients will be honoured at a ceremony at the Isabel Bader Theatre on April 13.