Kawaldip Sehmi: global champion of patients’ rights and the ultimate Expert Patient
Originally published on the BMJ.
Kawaldip Sehmi, chief executive of the International Alliance of Patients’ Organizations (IAPO) died unexpectedly. Kawaldip’s passion and enthusiasm for his work was inexhaustible and his leadership of IAPO outstanding. He lived, breathed, and skilfully advanced patient centred care around the world by listening to, and connecting, communities of patients and worked with them to drive policy to protect their rights and enshrine the principle that “every patient’s voice counts.”
Thinking global, acting global
Kawaldip was born in Nairobi and came to the UK aged 22 to study building economics at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. He followed this with a masters in public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a masters in business administration at the London Business School, and a postgraduate diploma in legal practice from the London College of Law. At this time he became a British citizen. His work experience was as broad as his education had been. After working on various international public infrastructure projects he moved to healthcare, where his first job was as campaign director for the UK Thalassaemia Society. Working with community minority ethnic groups, he helped empower and support them to make informed decisions and lobbied for community genetic screening services.
He subsequently directed a global health programme aimed at reducing health inequalities in people living with non-communicable diseases in Africa and Asia. This was based largely on the use of low cost technologies and mobile phone apps. During this time he successfully advocated for the introduction of legislation to provide access to smoking cessation services.
His legal skills were put to good use. In 2012 he became managing director of Coram’s Children’s Legal Centre in London, heading a team working on family law. He set up a child rights advice line and resources to inform and support those seeking to advance these rights. He then took up the position of chief executive of Richmond Psychosocial Foundation International, a charity devoted to providing mental health services to support young people and adults with complex mental health problems, personality disorders, and substance abuse problems. His work there led to the establishment of new services to protect the rights and interests of adolescents locked in police cells. The measures he introduced were subsequently taken up by the London Metropolitan Police.
He took on his final position, as chief executive of IAPO, in 2015. Here he helped shape the World Health Organization’s policy on patient safety, and worked tirelessly with a wide range of medical and health professionals, policy makers, academics, researchers, and industry to promote patients’ rights and patient centred healthcare. One of the many successful advocacy roles he took on was in the Fight the Fakes Alliance (https://fightthefakes.org/about-us/who-we-are).
A man of many parts whose kindness knew no bounds
In 2020 Kawaldip joined the BMJ patient and public advisory panel. He stimulated us to take on a more global perspective, and helped extend our international connections. As a cancer survivor he fully understood the key role that patients can and should have in shaping healthcare, health research, and health policy.
Full of life and fun, he loved to tell a story, and he used his anecdotes and wide knowledge on a diverse range of topics to put people at ease and to get the best out of them. But he was also a good listener, patient as well as creative, and always ready to extenda hand to those in need in his professional as well as his personal life.
Kawaldip, and his wife, Koni, lived in Twickenham—the perfect place for someone with a legendary passion for sport. He was often to be found at rugby and cricket matches, accompanied by his two nephews, to whom he acted as a father. Bird watching was another of his passions.
His unexpected sudden death devastated colleagues, friends, family, and fellow patient advocates from around the world. The condolences on his memorial page speak volumes about the achievements and impact of this much loved and much missed man, who left big shoes to fill, but also a legacy for many to continue his work. https://memorialsource.com/memorial/kawaldip-sehmi.
Kawaldip Sehmi (MSc International Public Health, MBA, LLB), died 1st August 2023.