The next generation of global health leadership must be different — more diverse, inclusive and representative of the world.
March has brought gender equality to the center of the global conversation. International Women’s Day, the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, and Women’s History Month have focused the world’s attention on the achievements of women, their role in society, and the ongoing struggle for women’s rights. Propelled by that positive momentum, we’re recognizing these inspirational women who are working to improve the health and wellbeing of families around the world.
Margaret Nakanjakke, Uganda
Margaret Nakanjakke was born in a village near the Nile River, in a tiny hut without electricity. Her mother had 22 pregnancies and 16 children. When Margaret’s parents discovered she was pregnant, they kicked her out. Margaret was so ashamed that she tried to take her life three times, swallowing poison and throwing herself in the river. But she survived. After her baby boy was born, Margaret’s father gave the newborn to the parents of the baby’s father, against Margaret’s wishes. She would not see her son for 10 years.
Margaret landed a job as a janitor for Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU), a place that would transform her life. She started out cleaning floors, but learned about reproductive health and contraception: “I thought, ‘Oh, I wish I had known about this.’” Margaret eventually married a man she loves and had two more children, which she planned. She returned to school, studying at night and earning the equivalent of her high school diploma with one of the top scores in the country.
Margaret’s life was transformed by the information and empowerment she received through RHU. She works to improve the lives of thousands of young Ugandans by giving them tools they desire to avoid unintended pregnancies, stay in school, and live healthy, productive lives. “Where girls are not empowered, they don’t have information, and then they are blamed for what they have fallen instead of helped,” she said. “If the policymakers consider that, I tell you, our girls can go far.”
Roopa Dhatt, United States
Roopa Dhatt, is Executive Director and co-founder of Women in Global Health. The movement, which just launched its second chapter in Washington, D.C., aims to bring gender equality to global health leadership and serves members in more than 70 countries. A self-described “physician by training and an advocate by principle,” Dhatt believes in the right to health and well-being for all human beings. Dhatt juggles her primary care patients with positions on several boards dedicated to expanding the role of women in global health.
“The next generation of global health leadership must be different — more diverse, inclusive and representative of the world,” Dhatt said in a recent interview for Medium. “We cannot stand by waiting for change; we each have a responsibility to advance the dialogue, shift mindsets, change institutional policies and transform societies for greater gender equality.”
Dr. Rose Gana Fomban Leke, Cameroon
Dr. Rose Gana Fomban Leke is an Emeritus Professor at the Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Yaoundé I in Cameroon. Her groundbreaking research encompasses broad areas of immunology, parasitology, and global health, with a particular focus on malaria. She advises the World Health Organization on a number of committees, and leads a number of boards, scientific societies, and global health organizations. Dr. Leke helps head work to eradicate polio in Africa. She’s chairied the African Regional Commission for the Certification of the Eradication of Poliomyelitis (ARCC) since its inception in 1999. Professor Leke is the individual who will ultimately make the decision to declare Africa polio-free. As she has received accolades for her research, she has committed herself to advancing gender equality and empowering women in the field of public health.
“Science is still a challenging field for women to enter, and even more so in which to progress,” she told WHO. “It was an issue I really took to heart.”
Dr. Naoko Yamamoto, Japan
Dr. Naoko Yamamoto is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Assistant Director-General for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and Health Systems. Dr. Yamamoto is a veteran of both the United Nations and Japan’s health system. Most recently, she served as Senior Assistant Minister for Global Health in Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. A medical doctor with a PhD in epidemiology and a Masters in Public Health, Yamamoto has helped helm Japan’s global health leadership across international gatherings. Most recently, Yamamoto visited Cambodia to learn about the nation’s progress and challenges toward achieving health for all and affirming WHO’s commitment to sustain Cambodia’s progress toward UHC.
“Health is essential to people’s fundamental happiness and a foundation of prosperous countries,” Yamamoto has said.
Dr. Clarisse Loe Loumou, Cameroon
Dr. Clarisse Loe Loumou founded Alternative Santé, an organization that educates mothers and connects children with basic health services. A pediatrician who has served families in clinics across Cameroon, Loe Loumou has also worked as a committee leader advising Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, a public-private partnership that creates and delivers vaccines to children living in low-income countries. She was part of Atavac, a program to increase vaccination coverage in Cameroon, and trained immunization nurses. Loe Loumou has fostered global health collaborations with civil society organizations and expanding immunization among francophone communities across sub-Saharan Africa. When it comes to providing children critical vaccines, Loe Loumou says “resting on our laurels is not an option.”
Dame Sally Davies, United Kingdom
Dame Sally Davies is the first woman to serve as Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England and Chief Medical Advisor to the UK Government. Davies, part of the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board and chair of WHO’s Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), is a vocal advocate warning of the growing global threat of AMR. Misuse and abuse of precious antibiotics has accelerated the rise of drug-resistant infections – so-called superbugs – jeopardizing global health by making formerly harmless ailments potentially deadly and killing 700,000 people each year.
“We really are facing, if we don’t take action now, a dreadful post-antibiotic apocalypse,” Davies told global health experts at a Call to Action event in Berlin in 2017 intended to speed progress against AMR. Through reports, events at the World Health Assembly, TEDx talks, and her book The Drugs Don’t Work, Davies uses a multitude of platforms to call for international action to use antibiotics more responsibly in humans and animals, and accelerate the development of new, lifesaving drugs.
Ayesha Raza Farooq, Pakistan
Ayesha Raza Farooq is a Pakistani Senator and the Prime Minister’s appointed focal point on polio eradication for Pakistan and a vocal advocate for polio health workers on the frontlines of stopping polio in her country and around the world. Farooq recently was awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz, or Star of Excellence-the third-highest award in Pakistan–for her leadership improving the country’s polio program. Since 2014, polio has dropped 97 percent in Pakistan, from 306 wild poliovirus cases that year to eight cases in 2017. She dedicated the honor to the heroic efforts of polio teams, some of whom have been killed in recent months while trying to vaccinate children against the disease.
“This award was received by me but belongs to each and every one who has worked with missionary zeal, unflinching commitment and dedication to stop polio in its ranks,” Farooq said in a statement. “This award is in recognition of the heroic effort of the brave foot soldiers of this programme -260,000 Sehat Muhafiz – who trek the length and breadth of our great country spreading hope and light in the shape of polio drops to protect our children from lifelong disability.”
Take Action Challenge
- Know a trailblazing women in Global Health? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram. Be sure to tag us (@globalmomschall) and #GlobalMoms in your post.
- Check out the links above to learn more about each of these inspiring women.