Sir George A O Alleyne Director of the Pan American Health Organisation PAHO
Barbados has an educational system of which it is very proud. The island, though tiny, has arguably produced some of the region’s finest, across all professions – lawyers, teachers, politicians, and artists. However, its contribution to the region’s medical arena is truly an outstanding one, and the man who has made one of the most significant contributions is Sir George A. O. Alleyne.
Knighted in 1990 for his services to medicine, Sir George was born in October of 1932 in the southern rural parish of St. Philip. As a boy he attended Harrison College, one of the island’s most respected secondary schools and earned himself the nickname “Champ” for his academic brilliance. Upon graduation he received the lone Barbados Scholarship – for in those days only one was awarded each year – and was among one of the first groups of students to study medicine at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus in Jamaica.
In fact, it was here that Sir George met his wife, and was lovingly greeted by her family as “the little doctor boy from Barbados,” – words, he says, have helped to keep him grounded ever since.
Today, Sir George Alleyne is the Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) – a post he was appointed to in 1995 and re-appointed to in 1999. Of particular note is the fact that he is the first Barbadian, and indeed the first Caribbean person to head this renowned organization.
Sir George has alluded that his decision to enter the medical arena was in part due to the social degradation and rampant health woes that he witnessed among his people as a child. Indeed, the 1930’s was a turbulent period throughout the Caribbean, and riots borne out of discontent, social and economic oppression, and the lack of health and educational services erupted in many islands.
“I suppose,” he says, “in that environment were sown the seeds of my social conscience.”
So dedicated is he to this cause of broad-reaching health provision that Sir George taught himself Spanish when asked to lead PAHO, for he wanted to be able to understand and represent as many people within the Americas as he could. Today, he speaks Spanish fluently and can choose his language according to the needs of his audience.
At the inauguration of his second term as PAHO Director, Sir George was praised for “the depth of his commitment and the breadth of his vision.” His fight to address and deal with such issues as HIV / AIDS and infectious diseases, hypertension and obesity, and poverty and infant mortality has enabled thousands of families throughout the Americas “to enjoy healthier, safer lives.”
He has been praised time and time again for his leadership, dedication, and tireless work towards the cause of Caribbean healthcare – showing us that an individual’s seeds of social consciousness can bear fruit for an entire region.
Article written in 2003 and compliments of “Ins and Outs of Barbados” Magazine