Suriname Indigenous Health Fund (SIHF)


Media Reports:

In April 2012, a crew from Dan Rather Reports traveled with a Suriname Indigenous Health Fund health assessment team to Suriname's interior region. The reporters went there to document a decade-long effort by the Wayana people who are struggling to combat the effects of mercury on their health and the environment. Go to the SIHF Facebook page where you can view the 18 minute program, "The True Cost of Gold". You will also find another short "behind the scenes" clip in which the show's producer, Kelly Busby talks about the film from her perspective. We invite you to watch the report then send us your comments either via Facebook at or by email to



The Suriname Indigenous Health Fund team has published a number of articles in health and science journals. Many of these publications have been reviewed and approved by the communities discussed in the articles. This collaborative approach, while unusual for scientific articles, is consistent with the community driven approach of the SIHFund team. Below are links to articles published in a variety of journals as well as a documentary film about indigenous people in Suriname.

Public Understanding of Science is a fully peer reviewed, quarterly international journal covering all aspects of the inter-relationships between science (including technology and medicine) and the public.

  • Public health programs as surrogates for social action in Suriname, South America
    This paper addresses the merits of public health activism that advocates for social change in which health is the outcome of interest. We acknowledge that while efforts at the individual level are important, social network models consider the underlying mechanisms that lie outside the public health sector. This paper considers the inequitable health of Indigenous people who bear a disproportionate share of the negative health consequences due to economic development programs that follow an assimilation model. This paper discusses a combination of theoretical constructs to understand and solve the problems at hand. It concludes that while the attention paid to technological and behavioral solutions at the individual level yields important health outcomes, attention should also be paid to structural causes that address social, political and economic barriers to prevent disease, disability and premature death. Download article as [PDF]

Journal of Environmental and Public Health is a peer-reviewed, open access journal that publishes original research articles, review articles, and clinical studies in all areas of environmental and public health.

  • Community-led assessment of risk from exposure to mercury by native Amerindian Wayana in southeast Suriname
    This study was a collaboration between Western public health researchers and a Suriname non-profit coalition of indigenous communities. The overarching question asked was "how can Western researchers more effectively engage traditional indigenous communities in Suriname, South America, in public health research". The approach used was a combination of Participatory Action Research methods and the methods described by Linda Tihiwai Smith in Decolonizing Methodologies. This project employed a research framework where 'Western' researchers became participating observers in an indigenous-led Western research initiative. Wayana communities in southeast Suriname determined for themselves their risk of exposure to mercury from mining. A community led research design was created in partnership between community leaders in two Wayana villages and two non-governmental organizations. Download article as [PDF]

Indigenous Suriname: Community leaders asked SIHFund to help tell their story to a global audience. The result was this 25-minute award wining film produced by local partners Jerry and Machelle Hartman of Eclectic Reels. This community directed documentary presents the stories and perspectives of interior tribes of the Amazon river basin. In the film, Indigenous Amerindians struggle to survive in a global society that ignores their existence in the face of exploitive development, including gold mining and its toxic mercury pollution. In late 2010, the full-length film Inside Suriname: Human Rights in an Era of Global Development will be released internationally.



Health Exchange is a forum for practitioners and frontline health workers to share experiences and lessons from the field. It is a quarterly on-line and print magazine designed to have a practical focus on important health topics. Below are two articles concerning SIHFund's work in Suriname that appeared in the Summer 2010 online issue.

  • Health Research in Suriname: Where Science and Indigenous Knowledge Meet
    Increasingly, indigenous communities are suffering from study fatigue. They are calling for an end to the traditional scientific approach to health research and management. So how can science and indigenous knowledge meet to improve health and the environment? Daniel Peplow, Sarah Augustine, and Leon Eric Wijngaarde share a new approach in Suriname which aims to resolve these differences Download article as [PDF]
  • What is Public Engagement With Health Research?
    Biomedical science is embedded in the cultural landscape. By its very nature medical research offers great promise, yet it can challenge cultural norms and personal beliefs and choices. Without engaging with the social, political and cultural fabric in which research is conducted and its results are to be implemented, health research can easily be seen as an endeavour of outsiders, unaccountable to society, misunderstood and mistrusted. Siān Aggett shares the Wellcome Trust's work in this area. Download article as [PDF]

International Workgroup for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) is an international human rights organization which supports indigenous peoples around the world. IWGIA publishes Indigenous World, an annual book that presents indigenous peoples' voices and current concerns. It gives a unique overview of important events and developments in the indigenous world during the subject year. SIHFund has published articles in the Indigenous World 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 editions.

  • Indigenous World 2008 (this link opens entire yearbook, article starts on page 118)
    The indigenous Amerindian and Maroon people living in Suriname's southern rainforest region (the Interior) are facing the most destructive period in their history. This article discusses land rights issues brought about by increasing pressures from mining and land development. Download extracted article as [PDF]
  • Indigenous World 2007 (this link opens entire yearbook, article starts on page 137)
    A project developed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) will replace traditional land tenure systems in Amerindian and Maroon areas with an "active market system for land". Since Amerindian and Maroon people in the interior are not recognized as having a legal claim to their traditional territories and because they do not have the financial or social capital to compete with foreigners for title of their traditional lands, this project will result in the transfer of land to foreign investors and IDB donors. Download extracted article as [PDF]
  • Indigenous World 2006 (this link opens entire yearbook, article starts on page 154)
    30 years after gaining independence from the Dutch, the indigenous Surinamese peoples suffer from land rights issues, violence, access to clean water, and mercury poisoning of their traditional food sources from surface mining. A new mining law further threatens their health and traditional lands. This article argues for Indigenous and tribal communities to be be consulted before the Mining Law is enacted. "They must be consulted on all conservation, resource extraction and management initiatives that directly impact their lands. Furthermore, villagers should lead efforts to set up long-term mercury programs to monitor and mitigate the effects of mercury from gold mines on their community's and their environment's health." Download extracted article as [PDF]
  • Indigenous World 2005 (this link opens entire yearbook, article starts on page 130)
    The effects of mining concessions on the indigenous peoples include displacement from their traditional lands and the health affects of mercury polution from mining. This article discusses the failed scientific approach to dealing with the problems and argues for a more holistic view of the situation. "A new research model is needed to integrate the entire range of social, cultural, economic, health and policy-related factors on the basis of community participation. To this end, it is essential to establish an effective system for an ethical review of the research. This includes the establishment and maintenance of a research ethics committee or institutional review board (IRB) independent of government and research sponsors. An IRB should include indigenous and tribal teams to guide the research." Download extracted article as [PDF]

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is an international public health agency with more than 100 years of experience in working to improve health and living standards of the countries of the Americas. It serves as the specialized organization for health of the Inter-American System. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization and enjoys international recognition as part of the United Nations system. SIHFund published a report on community-directed testing and risk assessment in the 2007 Public Health journal published by PAHO. Also included in this PDF is an editorial in response to the article and a reply to the editorial from the authors.

  • Community-Directed Risk Assessment of Mercury Exposure from Gold Mining in Suriname
    The overarching objective of this project was to support the indigenous people in Kwakoegron, Suriname, in self-diagnosis of public and environmental health problems. This project showed that a democratic approach to science does not automatically compromise the orderly search for answers. Specifically, our experience in Kwakoegron suggests that the collaborative relationship that emerges by empowering an indigenous community to initiate its own research projects, and address the needs it identifies, can contribute positively to the risk assessment process.