Five Things You Need To Know About Africa’s First Female Head of WHO AFRO

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Botswana doctor, Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti made history last week by becoming the first female Director of WHO Africa Regional Office (WHO AFRO). Nominated in November last year by the health ministers of the 47 Member States of the WHO-AFRO, the ratification of her appointment on Tuesday was welcomed with resounding applause from within the world’s health circles and beyond. However, despite her veteran status in national and international public health service, Dr Moeti is not a well-known figure, at least not in the general public. Thus, we bring you five very interesting things you need to know about the continent’s new number one public health servant.
Dr Moeti is From Botswana, where 7 of 10 Doctors are Foreigners
To Africa, Matshidiso Moeti is one the continent’s top physicians, but to Botswana she is among the very few indigenous medical practitioners. According to the WHO Africa Region, of which Moeti is the new director, only about 10% of the medical doctors in Botswana are local. The health body says the country is still very dependent on foreign doctors, mainly from other parts of Africa.[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”10″]
However, improvements are now forthcoming; with Botswana’s human resource development a priority in national development plans, the WHO says the country’s health workforce has steadily increased over time. The ratios of nurses and doctors to population have also improved as against the early 2000s when highly trained professionals such as doctors, dentists, radiographers and pharmacists who were foreigners together accounted for 70% of all filled posts in the public health sector.
Botswana now also trains its doctors; in 2007 a medical school was established and admitted its first batch of 36 basic medical degree students in 2009. Prior to 2009, all doctors were trained outside the country, one of them Dr Moeti who trained in the United Kingdom.
Five of Dr Moeti’s six family members are Doctors
Both of Matshidiso’s parents are doctors; they graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand, one of the top universities in South Africa. Two of her three siblings are also doctors, with only one going the way of Civil Engineering.
However, even though the parents were doctors, Matchidiso and her siblings’ route to proper education was not clear-cut. The apartheid system, which the National Party of South Africa brought on after they came to power in 1948, imposed “Bantu education” on blacks, preparing them only for subservient jobs. According to the New York Times, a defining moment in the life of Rebecca 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. “My father decided right then that we would move to Botswana so his children could get a better education,” the magazine quoted the 60 year old Doctor.
In the end, it was their parents’ determination and theirs, that saw them through successful educational pursuits. Rebecca went on to earn her medical and public health degrees from the University of London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine respectively.
She was the first child in her town to be immunized
“My father liked to boast that I was the first child in our township to be immunized against TB,” Dr Moeti is quoted as saying in the same New York Times article. Her parents, who she said saw patients in a room attached to their four-room house, laid the foundation of her interest in public health. She has since then made fruitful use of the inspiration going on to have 35 successful years in public health service.
Matchidiso’s public health career include positions in Botswana Ministry of Health, where she was a clinician and public Health Specialist; UNAIDS, where was she was a Team Leader of the Africa and Middle East Desk in Geneva; UNICEF where she was Regional Health Adviser for East and Southern Africa; and lastly the WHO’s Africa Regional Office, which she joined in 1999 and has just been elected as Director.
Matchidiso Joined WHO because of her boyfriend
Dr Moeti isn’t shy to admit that emotions drove her to joining the world health body. “I did it to give the relationship a chance,” She told the New York Times, referring to her decision to join the WHO because of her boyfriend who was already working for them as a doctor in Zimbabwe. Her then boyfriend has since become her husband, meaning that both on an emotional and a career level her decision was the right one. By marrying a medical doctor, Dr Moeti follows in her parents’ footsteps; who knows, they may again produce several doctors too.
Moeti’s sojourn in the WHO has been tremendously successful; prior to her election as the new Regional Director, she was the Deputy Regional Director and later, Coordinator of the Inter-Country Support Team for the South and East African countries of WHO African Region. As WHO Representative in Malawi in 2005–2007, Dr Moeti led the WHO country team in supporting the government and development partners in managing the health sector. At the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Dr Moeti led the WHO Regional Office for Africa’s action on treatment scale-up in the context of the “3 by 5″ initiative.
She’s got her Focus set on Ebola and Healthcare too (VENTURES AFRICA)

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