Dr. Keith Martin has a unique set of experiences that have led him to become a leader in Canada’s collaborative efforts in the field of global health. He has served as a Member of Parliament for Canada and worked in the higher levels of government for more than 17 years in the areas of foreign policy and international development, as well as having on-the-ground experience as a physician working in a rural hospital in South Africa while that nation was in a state of emergency. His main areas of specialization and interest are global health, international development, foreign policy, conservation and the environment. He is currently the Executive Director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH).
In what ways has being Canadian benefited your work in global health?
Growing up in Canada I was extremely fortunate to be the recipient of our education system, and I appreciate the importance of education as a vital social determinant of health. I was very lucky to work as a physician in the Canadian system, where people are not denied care based on their ability to pay. I was able to put patients first. Caring for people in remote First Nations communities, in detox, and the homeless and destitute in the emergency department showed me the value of these programs as an essential social pillar of a caring society. Travelling as a Canadian has enabled me to visit many remote lands and be welcomed because of the country I come from.
Out of all your accomplishments as a leader in global health, what are you most proud of? What would you like to be remembered for?
I don't care to be remembered at all. However, after working in South Africa, next to Mozambique during apartheid, I treated people suffering from many traumatic injuries including having their limbs blown off from a landmine. These experiences led me as an MP in the early 1990s to introduce legislation in the House of Commons to ban the use and sale of landmines. The Canadian government at the time under PM Jean Chretien and with Foreign Minister Lloyd Axsworthy then created the Ottawa Process which led to a UN global treaty banning the use and sale of landmines. Our combined efforts are saving thousands of lives a year.
What are you currently working on that you’d like people to know about?
We have many exciting projects on the go. One, in particular, will help to address the colossal deficit in health care workers in Africa. We are connecting the training needs of African institutions with the capabilities of academic institutions in North America to strengthen the ability of African institutions to train and retain their workers. I have also been pushing for the implementation of solutions we already have that will address the twin challenges of human health and the sustainability of the planet.
What areas of global health are you most passionate about? Where is your focus most likely to be in the future?
Academia has a great opportunity to evolve and become a much bigger player in impacting the challenges our planet faces. Our drive to produce knowledge must at least be matched, and I think exceeded, by a zeal to implement what we already know works. We must scale up known solutions that protect the integrity of Earth’s ecosystems. This is an international urgency for as the planet goes so to do we. Addressing the knowledge gap, building effective health systems, educating and mobilizing the public on big global health issues, trying to get academia and other sectors to become more political (engaging in the political process is vital to affect change), scaling up and sharing public health and environmental interventions via social media platforms are some of the things I am excited about.
Name one thing that most people don’t know about you.
I have a passion for tracking and photographing big game in Africa and am an ardent conservationist. On my time off I am working to stop the slaughter of rhinos and elephants and the illegal wildlife trade.
The series Canadian Heroes in Global Health profiles individuals who have dedicated their lives to improving the health and lives of millions of men, women, and children both at home and around the world. They may not be well-known to the general public and we hope that we can help to change that. These leaders range from physicians fighting singular conditions to individuals who head large national and international organizations such as UNICEF Canada and the World Heart Foundation, and everything in between. We will showcase their diverse contributions to global health and the impact they have had on the world. Click here for a full list of individuals chosen to be profiled.