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#UofTGrad17: Three things you should know about Sir George Alleyne

Sir George Alleyne received an honorary degree from U of T today (photo by Lisa Sakulensky)

Sir George Alleyne is internationally recognized as a leader in the prevention and control of medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory disease.

The Barbados-born physician was appointed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2003 to serve as special envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region. 

Read more about Sir George Alleyne

Today, the University of Toronto honours Alleyne, who until earlier this year was the chancellor of the University of the West Indies, with a Doctor of Science, honoris causa, for his work as “a scholar in academic medicine, and for his outstanding service for the public good, through his humanitarian work and contributions to global health.” He is among 16 people being recognized with honorary degrees by the University of Toronto in 2017.

U of T News asked each of the honorary graduates to share an iconic Canadian moment – a feeling or experience they wish each of their fellow graduates could share. Below, are three things you should know about Alleyne, including his Canadian moment.

Innovating public health policy

Alleyne entered academic medicine at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in 1962, going on to become a professor of medicine in 1972. In 1976, he was appointed chairman of the department of medicine. In 1981, he joined the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO), eventually serving several terms as the director.

“He’s a rare combination: a deep thinker, on the one hand, and a good policy maker with very good political instincts, on the other,” said Julio Frenk, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health.

As director emeritus of PAHO, he used his position to elevate non-communicable disease prevention in the international political agenda.

In the The Guardian, Alleyne wrote about growing urbanization and appealed to governments to innovate to better address the health needs of citizens.

“The reality is that, all over the world, growing urbanization is inevitable,” he wrote. “In theory, the fact that people live closer to health providers in an urban setting should lead to greater delivery of health service and equity. But this is not always the case and delivering public health in urban areas, across emerging economies while achieving the needed policy coordination across all levels of government, is a huge and largely unaddressed challenge.”

He served as the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region from 2003 to 2010.

Alleyne was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990, awarded the Order of the Caribbean Community in 2001, and in 2008 was the first Caribbean citizen to receive the Science of Peace Award.

Advice for grads

In his convocation address, Alleyne appealed to U of T grads to utilize their education for the betterment of humanity.

“Your quest for improving the public’s health and reducing the avoidable inequalities in health is at the heart of human development,” he said.

He told grads to not leave development work up to those who speak of it only in economic terms: “The disciplines represented by you are key to human development, and you are genuine development experts.”

Canadian moment

Alleyne says when he was a schoolboy in Barbados, he learned the Canadian anthem.

“I regarded Canada as a potentially mighty nation,” he said. When he finally visited Canada in 1967, Alleyne says his view was confirmed, and over several years, his social and professional contact grew as did his appreciation for Canada’s potential.

He says Canada has welcomed and embraced many of his relatives who have spoken positively about Canada’s diversity and opportunities for growth.

In recent years, Alleyne says Canada has supported Caribbean initiatives in science, health and education. In 2013, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded the University of West Indies’ Open Campus, an online education portal.

“Canada has so much to celebrate on its 150th birthday, and the many of us who have benefitted from its munificence and its cooperation, salute it and wish it well for the next 150 years,” he said.