The time of the annual World Health Assembly (WHA) is with us again. The preliminary meetings start this week and the formal assembly starts on 18th May,ending on 26th May 2015. I hope all delegations remember our previous discussions on how to prepare for these meetings. In the case of African countries, this year’s WHA will be different in that the WHO Region for Africa will be led by a new Regional Director in the names of Dr. Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, a national of Botswana. Dr. Moeti was elected by the African Regional Committee in Cotonou, Benin last September, confirmed by the WHO Executive Board in January 2015 and took up her office on 1st February, 2015.
Dr. Moetihas taken over leadership of the WHO Regional Office for Africa at a time when this office has taken sharp criticism for the runaway Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)outbreak in West Africa. There have been open accusations from some eminent global health leaders that the office is “full of political appointees” and not professionals. The leadership of the EVD control was taken over by the WHO Headquarters in Geneva and the visibility of WHO African office in this effort is not prominent. Critics are reluctant to attribute the improving health indices in Africa to the work of this office such as the decline in HIV and malaria prevalence and the significant reduction in child mortality. These criticisms are all not deserved. So what prospects do Africa and the world have with the new leadership of Dr. Moeti? First, I was present during her election in Benin, which was quick and decisive suggesting that she enjoys strong support among African Health Ministers and governments. Second in her acceptance speech for this job, she made commitments to Africa.She will invigorate the African effort in the EVD control. She will help countries in their efforts to make faster progress in reducing deaths among mothers and children and tackling HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and neglected tropical diseases. She will work hard to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent noncommunicable diseases. She “will fast-track the implementation of WHO’s global reform program in the African Region, driving towards our being an even more effective, fast-acting and accountable partner to our Member States” she told delegates at the Executive Board. Thirdly, Dr. Moeti’s acceptance speech has enjoyed favorable reviews in the media. In an interview shortly after her appointment, she is quoted as saying that one of her goals is to make the African country offices more accountable and staffed with people hired on merit, not political promises; the region’s past issues with nepotism, she insists, are “history.” Indeed if she achieves this one point, the rest will fall into place. So what has she done since February 2015? Dr. Moeti established a transition team and has reorganized the clusters at the Regional Office in Brazzaville; she is recruiting suitable candidates for the new leadership of these clusters. She wants to open up the office and be receptive to ideas and has appointed an Independent Advisory Group composed of global health leaders from all corners of the world. She is also appointing a Ministerial team of advisers and these groups will help her to craft an African health transformation agenda and program. This will be done in consultation with the African Union Commission who has announced plans to develop a new Africa Health Strategy updating the one of 2007 and have launched an African Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This is indeed a once in a generation opportunity for Africa to transform the health of our people and contribute to global health security and achieve universal health coverage. Let’s all support Dr. Moeti and these new efforts because despite Africa’s acclaimed economic progress and improving health indices, there remains a huge gap between Africa’s status and that of the rest of the world which is painful and shameful. Your contributions to this conversation will be highly appreciated. Sincerely,Francis.