Botswana doctor appointed to lead WHO in Africa

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A defining moment in the life of Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s new regional director for Africa, came when she was 9 and her father realized that her little sister’s mathematics textbook was below even the level he had studied as a poor child on a South African farm.

He and his wife had both graduated from one of the country’s top medical schools, the University of the Witwatersrand, but the National Party that came to power in 1948 had imposed “Bantu education” on blacks, preparing them only for subservient jobs under apartheid.

“My father decided right then that we would move to Botswana so his children could get a better education,” Dr. Moeti, 60, said in a telephone interview on Monday from Geneva, where on Tuesday she was appointed to the new W.H.O. post that will put her at the forefront of an international effort to stop the spread of Ebola.

Her parents’ determination, coupled with her own — she earned her medical degree at the University of London’s Royal Free Hospital, ran tuberculosis and H.I.V. programs in Botswana and has worked for three United Nations agencies — made her a much-praised choice for a job that is, for once, a focus of world attention.


The W.H.O.’s Africa office has long been criticized as a cozy sinecure for officials with political connections but little drive, and its slow reaction and initial resistance to direction from the Geneva headquarters in the early months of the Ebola outbreak have been held partly to blame for the epidemic’s getting out of control.

“There is no question that, as a region, we need to up our game,” Dr. Moeti said. “The W.H.O. is reforming, and one of my intentions is to fast-track reform in the region, too.”

Competence tests for the staff and audits of job performance by outside consultants will be among the changes, she said. The W.H.O.’s big donors, including the United States, have been demanding that the agency be more efficient and effective.

During the selection process, Dr. Moeti said, she was not pressured to promise jobs to anyone in return for any country’s vote, which is known to have happened in the past.

“Things have moved on from that,” she said.

Several prominent public health leaders expressed confidence in her.

“C.D.C. pledges to support her and her objectives,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has sent hundreds of its employees to Africa to fight the outbreak. “She gives hope that she’ll lead in a fully constructive direction to address the challenges the Ebola epidemic highlighted.”

Dr. Peter Piot, a discoverer of the Ebola virus who is the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a critic of the W.H.O.’s Ebola response, said Dr. Moeti was “very experienced and technically very competent.”

“I do think she can reform the office,” he said. “As long as she has the support of the member states.”

Besides an overhaul, Dr. Moeti said, her priorities will be ending the Ebola outbreak and working to get more African countries to adopthealth insurance for basic medical care, as has been done in Rwandaand Ghana.

She said her interest in public health was inspired by her parents, who saw patients in a room attached to their four-room house in KwaThema, South Africa.

“My father liked to boast that I was the first child in our township to be immunized against TB,” she said.

Two of her three siblings are doctors; one is a civil engineer.

Dr. Moeti also credited a boyfriend with starting her down the path to her new job, and described the decision in medical terms. She joined the W.H.O., she said, because he was working for it as a doctor in Zimbabwe.

“I did it to give the relationship a chance,” she said. “Since we are now married, it was a results-based career move.”

New York Times

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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