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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 32  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 106-107

Obituary: David Sanders and His Struggle for Equitable Care

Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium; The Network: Towards Unity for Health

Date of Web Publication18-Nov-2019

Correspondence Address:
Jan De Maeseneer
Ghent university, Ghent, Belgium. The Network: Towards Unity for Health

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/efh.EfH_244_19

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How to cite this article:
De Maeseneer J. Obituary: David Sanders and His Struggle for Equitable Care. Educ Health 2019;32:106-7

How to cite this URL:
De Maeseneer J. Obituary: David Sanders and His Struggle for Equitable Care. Educ Health [serial online] 2019 [cited 2022 Aug 11];32:106-7. Available from:

It was the month of September – year 1966. Africans in the Gillingham township were queuing up to pay six pence for their medical examination and treatment at a clinic, housed in an old tobacco grading shed, cleaned and repainted by some medical students over the weekend. The clinic was being run by the medical students at the University College in Salisbury. The chairman of the students' committee running the clinic had visited South Africa to study similar clinics. The chairman was none other than David Sanders, then a 3rd year medical student.

David Sanders went onto become an internationally renowned pediatrician and public health researcher who spent more than 50 years fighting for a rights-based health-care system and was particularly involved in various struggles for health in Zimbabwe, the UK, and South Africa. David was passionate about participatory socialist democracy as a way to improve health and reduce inequality.

In 1993, David was appointed as the founding director of the new Public Health Program, which was later named as School of Public Health (SOPH) at the University of the Western Cape. Over the years, David was instrumental in developing SOPH into a renowned, nationally and internationally acknowledged, postgraduate teaching and research unit. He contributed immensely to health, education, and policy development, at both national and provincial levels, in South Africa.

A leading and an ardent critic of structural adjustment, neoliberal economics, David stressed at the causes of social and economic inequality which underpin poor health. He was among the founder members of the People's Health Movement at Bangladesh in 2000, a network committed to comprehensive primary health care and addressing the social, environmental, and economic determinants of health.

David was also on the Steering Committee of the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition from 2002 to 2006 and a member of the Knowledge Network of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health. He was an Honorary Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine from 2005 to 2007. He was also a Visiting Professor at Charité–Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, and at the Centre for International Health, University of Bergen, Norway. In 2012, David was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by University of Cape Town in recognition of his contribution to the development of policies and programs in primary health care nationally and internationally.

David always challenged the established notions and pushed everyone toward a critical way of thinking. In his book The Struggle for Health, he wrote: “The success of the medical contribution – that is the application of medical technology to the benefit of society – is critically dependent on the political context in which it is applied.”

Charming everyone he met with his mischievous and endearing grin, infectious laughter and sharp humor, David was a remarkable human being and a huge reservoir of knowledge. I personally met David Sanders at the occasion of my first visit to South Africa, organized by the late Dumo Baqwa. Ever since, we were regularly together, asking critical questions in lecture rooms at multiple conferences in different continents. I always admired the sharp critical analysis by David but also his warm appreciation for all those committed to achieve “Health for All.” He inspired us all when he was a keynote speaker at the Network: Towards Unity For Health annual conference in Limerick in 2018 (picture).

With an enormous body of work, exemplary commitment and passion toward his work and touching several lives with his warmth, David quietly passed away on August 30, 2019.

Comrade David, we will miss you!


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