Saturday, June 25, 2022
June 25, 2022

Linkedin Pinterest

WHO Africa’s first woman leader faces toughest challenge in COVID-19

Moeti’s continent trails world in vaccine efforts

By
Published:
4 Photos
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, head of the World Health Organization's regional Africa office, sits in her  Republic of Congo office Feb. 8.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, head of the World Health Organization's regional Africa office, sits in her Republic of Congo office Feb. 8. (moses sawasawa/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo — People stand when Dr. Matshidiso Moeti enters a room at the World Health Organization’s Africa headquarters in Republic of Congo. Small in stature, big in presence, Moeti is the first woman to lead the organization’s regional Africa office, the capstone of a trailblazing career in which she overcame discrimination in apartheid South Africa to become one of the world’s top health administrators.

As WHO Africa chief, Moeti initiates emergency responses to health crises in 47 of the continent’s countries and recommends policies to strengthen their health care systems.

Since her appointment in 2015, Moeti has grappled with the world’s deadliest Ebola outbreak, in West Africa.

Now Moeti is facing her toughest challenge: helping Africa respond to the coronavirus pandemic as the continent trails the rest of the world in testing and vaccination efforts.

She has become one of the world’s most compelling voices urging better consideration of Africa’s people — especially women, who’ve in many ways been hit hardest by COVID-19. Her identity as an African woman has been both a strength and an obstacle on a continent where much of society is still dominated by patriarchal systems.

“I’m certainly doing my best to be there not only as a technician and a manager and a leader, but also very much as a woman from the region, from the continent,” Moeti, 67, told The Associated Press during a recent visit to WHO Africa headquarters in Brazzaville. “At the same time … I’m looking forward to the day when it will no longer be notable that there’s a woman leading an organization.”

Moeti has made strides within WHO Africa to follow through on her word — starting a leadership program that has helped promote more women by ensuring that female applicants for jobs are taken as seriously as men.

Improved gender parity is evident at WHO Africa, where nearly equal numbers of men and women walk around the sprawling campus, about a 20-minute drive outside Brazzaville along the Congo River. In her time in office, Moeti said, she is proud to have shifted the ratio of men to women — now, four female directors and four male directors flank her in the grand conference room where meetings and Zoom calls are held. Prior, it was three women to six men.

In Africa, women have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic — with lower vaccine rates, economic turmoil, rising pregnancies, other health care issues, increases in domestic and gender-based violence — and Moeti has made addressing that inequality a cornerstone of her work.

Support local journalism

Your tax-deductible donation to The Columbian’s Community Funded Journalism program will contribute to better local reporting on key issues, including homelessness, housing, transportation and the environment. Reporters will focus on narrative, investigative and data-driven storytelling.

Local journalism needs your help. It’s an essential part of a healthy community and a healthy democracy.

Community Funded Journalism logo
Loading...