Dr. Mirna Cunningham

Public Health Heroes
Myrna Cunningham
Dr. Myrna Cunningham

Dr. Mirna Cunningham of Nicaragua (1947 - ) is an important political leader of indigenous peoples in the Region of the Americas. A Misquito descent, Dr. Cunningham has worked for more than 50 years at the local, national, and international levels to advocate for human rights, the collective rights of indigenous populations, and women's health in Nicaragua. She is a recognized activist in Central America and internationally, she has been the recipient of important awards and recognition for her contributions.

On 2 December 2002, in Washington D. C., the Pan American Health Organization selected Dr. Myrna Cunningham among other 11 individuals with the award Heroine of Public Health, for her invaluable health contributions in the Americas.

Cunningham belongs to the Miskitu indigenous people of the Waspam community located on the banks of the Wangki River in Nicaragua. After studying pedagogy, she returned to her home community to work as a teacher. Again, she leaves her community to study medicine and surgery at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, being the first Miskito woman to be a doctor. After completing her studies, she worked at the Missionary Hospital of the Morava Church as a general practitioner and later as a surgeon, work that she combined with her work in the public health of the Coco River communities until 1979.

In September 2010, she obtained an Honorary Doctorate from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, being the first time that UNAM granted such recognition to an indigenous woman. From 2011 to 2013 she was president of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Among her valuable research are studies on the forms of discrimination suffered by indigenous women and she has promoted the establishment of strategies and programs that facilitate their access to education at all levels.

Cunningham has been a member of important organizations, among them the following stand out: the Board of Directors of the Global Fund for Women, the Alliance of Indigenous Women of Mexico and Central America, the Continental Network of Indigenous Women, the Indigenous Parliament of America, and the International Indigenous Women's Forum.

She is currently president of the Association for Women's Rights and Development (AWID) in addition to being an international consultant in various international organizations, including UNESCO, UNDP, PAHO, IDB, UNFPA, the ECLAC and UNIFEM.

Links of Interest:

Dr. Myrna Cunningham. The diversity of rural women. Produced by IFAD. 2016

Health of the Indigenous People of the Americas. PAHO TV. 2016