"Do something that you care passionately about, so that every day is just full of stuff that is fascinating and that matters to you and to others, and that you'll be immersed in and lose track of time. That's what I've done."
As a global expert in tuberculosis, Dr. Anne Fanning Binder has been an idealistic champion of the goals of health for all, in Canada and around the world. She has battled complacency and misunderstanding, and been a devoted advocate for those who live in the shadows of disease. As a physician and educator, she has combined a rigorous scientific understanding with exemplary compassion and empathy.
Anne Fanning was born in 1939 in London, Ontario. Her father had immigrated from Ireland as a 16-year-old with a “herring in his pocket” and met her mother when he sold her an x-ray machine for her practice in dermatology. Anne’s mother had sought her own pioneering adventure when she left her family’s homestead near Wainwright to study medicine in Edmonton. There were four women in her mother’s graduating class and 30 years later, when Anne followed in her mother’s medical footsteps, she was one of four women in her class at the University of Western Ontario.
It was at Western that Anne met and married Melvyn Binder, a law student from Alberta. Mel’s job with an Edmonton law firm brought them west to live. Anne did some postgraduate training in internal medicine at the University of Alberta. She briefly practiced at the Allin Clinic before starting a six-month residency in the exciting new specialty of Infectious diseases.
After taking time away for the birth of her daughters, Sara and Amy, Anne was offered a part-time position at the Aberhart Hospital, caring for TB patients. Anne realized early on that TB was a disease that targeted marginalized people. She estimated that from one-third to as many as one-half of sufferers were Indigenous people from small, remote communities. While TB treatment in the early 1970s did not necessitate the one- to two-year hospital stays that had been common in earlier decades, the stays were still long enough to leave patients feeling a sense of alienation.
Seeking to alleviate isolation and overcome the cultural divide, Anne hired three Indigenous women from northern Alberta for her team. The women taught Anne a great deal and brought Indigenous cultural activities to the Aberhart at a time when such practices were unusual. On one occasion, they even held a powwow, complete with drummers. Alongside her work of patient care and teaching at the University of Alberta Hospital, Anne acted as a consultant at the Edmonton sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic and also proposed and designed the Edmonton TB Clinic. In 1987, the Province of Alberta appointed Anne Director of Tuberculosis Services for Alberta, a position she held until 1995 when she was “downsized” as she puts it.
Anne’s work at the University drew her into the small but vigorous national and international community of experts involved in the fight against tuberculosis. She spent a transformative year as medical officer with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva where she was responsible for TB education program planning. Anne’s experience working and travelling with the WHO was an opportunity to learn from health care professionals in the field, to see how simple solutions could impact the health of the poor. It inspired her to return to the University of Alberta to create a global health program in the Faculty of Medicine, so that doctors in training could learn about health challenges and effective solutions for the poor. The program offers students opportunities to either work outside of Canada or to broaden their experience with a diversity of patients within Canada.
Since 1987, Anne has been an active member of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, serving ten years as a board member and a term as president. She was founder and chair of the Union’s TB Education working group and continues to be involved in the Global Indigenous STOP TB initiative and the working group on Ethics and Social Justice in Lung Health.
Anne began teaching in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry’s Division of Infectious Diseases in 1973. From the beginning, she was conscious of the unique health issues of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Anne helped to create a program to ensure that each year there are positions in the U of A’s medical school for Indigenous students. Though she retired in 2005, Anne continues to be an occasional student advisor and remains an adjunct professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences. She continues to be passionately committed to issues of social justice, giving occasional lectures on TB and Global Health. She also indulges her love of education through the Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association.
Anne considers herself a global citizen. She volunteers on the board of Keiskamma Canada Foundation, a charity working in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. She currently serves as President of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation. She also uses her time and energy to increase awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, not only around the world, but also in Canada. She campaigns tirelessly for social justice, lobbying governments in Canada and abroad to live up to their funding obligations and responsibility to address health solutions for the poor.
Anne’s dedication to her field has been recognized with numerous honours, including the Order of Canada; the Japanese Anti-Tuberculosis Association TB Global Award; the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal; the Alberta Centennial Medal; and the Canadian Medical Association’s highest honour, the Frederic Newton Gisborne Starr Award. She has also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Society for International Health; the May Cohen Award from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Canada; and Physician of the Year Award from the Capital Regional Medical Staff Association. Anne was also named as “One of Alberta’s Physicians of the Century” by the Alberta Medical Association in 2005.
Throughout her career, Anne has faced the challenge of public perception that TB is a disease of the past while witnessing the terrible truth of TB’s opportunistic character. She has seen it take hold where other illnesses have compromised people’s immunity. TB thrives on poverty, ignorance and complacency. In response, Anne continues to advocate for global health.
Executive Director, The Alberta Order of Excellence