Life expectancy in Arctic populations has greatly improved over the last 50 years. Much of this improvement can be attributed to health research that has resulted in a reduction in morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, and the vaccine-preventable diseases of childhood. However, despite these improvements in health indicators of Arctic residents, life expectancy and infant mortality remain higher in indigenous Arctic residents in the US Arctic, northern Canada, and Greenland when compared to Arctic residents of Nordic countries. The International Polar Year (IPY) represents a unique opportunity to focus world attention on Arctic human health and to further stimulate Circumpolar cooperation on emerging Arctic human health concerns. The Arctic Human Health Initiative (AHHI) is an Arctic Council IPY initiative that aims to build and expand on existing Arctic Council and International Union for Circumpolar Health (IUCH) human health research activities. The human health legacy of the IPY will be increased visibility of the human health concerns of Arctic communities, revitalization of cooperative Arctic human health research focused on those concerns, the development of health policies based on research findings, and the subsequent implementation of appropriate interventions, prevention and control measures at the community level.