During Black History Month 2021, we asked our team member to tell us about Black public health leaders that had an impact on their public health career or simply inspired them. All throughout February we profiled the selection made by our team and wanted to recognize and celebrate their contributions and achievements:
Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, the UN Human Rights Chair’s Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. She is a medical doctor with expertise advocating for universal health access, HIV care, youth-friendly services and family planning. Special Rapporteurs are appointed on specific human rights themes, with these independent experts holding an official mandate to monitor violations and promote rights. As Special Rapporteur, Dr. Mokofeng aims to prioritize the theme of vulnerability and restoration of dignity:
“Vulnerable people—whether by age, race, gender, class, sexuality, geography, migrants, born with HIV—deserve to have their rights respected, protected, and fulfilled.”
Dr. Seye Abimbola, a Nigerian health systems researcher and the inaugural and current editor-in-chief of BMJ Global Health. He is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine and Health and the current Prince Claus Chair in Development and Equity at Utrecht University. As the Editor-in-Chief of the open-access BMJ Global Health, he aims to help achieve a world in which every person and country has access to the best information about health, health care and social determinants of health available – a mission we at GSL avidly support. We greatly value our work with Seye and his team at BMJ Global Health. In the journal’s 5-year history, we are proud to have been able to collaborate with its editorial staff on a variety of publications.
Dr. Camara P. Jones, a physician, an epidemiologist and an anti-racism activist. She is also a former President of the American Public Health Association. Her work focuses on naming, measuring, and addressing the impacts of racism on health and well-being. Dr. Jones is known for using allegories or stories, such as The Gardener’s Tale to illustrate the effects of racism and social inequalities on health. She seeks to broaden the health debate to include not only universal access to high-quality health care but also attention to the social determinants of health and the social determinants of equity. During COVID-19, death rates in the US are up to 6x higher among Black Americans. But Dr. Jones pushed back on the idea that these disparities were of a biological nature, but that they rather are the result of the deep-rooted and pervasive impacts of racism.
“Race doesn’t put you at higher risk. Racism puts you at higher risk. It does so through two mechanisms: People of colour are more infected because we are more exposed and less protected. Then, once infected, we are more likely to die because we carry a greater burden of chronic diseases from living in disinvested communities with poor food options & poisoned air and because we have less access to health care.”
Loyce Pace is a public health policy expert, served as the President and Executive Director of the Global Health Council (GHC) until last month. On March 2, she was announced as the new Director of Global Affairs at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. In her role as Executive Director of GHC, she has advocated strongly for increased investments in global health to ensure global health security, and has worked to support and connect advocates, implementers and stakeholders around global health priorities worldwide. During COVID-19, Pace has convened leaders in global health to deliberate how the existing global health architecture could be strengthened in accordance with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, given our reality with COVID-19 and future public health threats.
“In recent years, global health has experienced waning political support and public apathy. But, now, COVID-19 has defined the meaning of “global health” to millions around the world in a very personal way, experienced both locally and globally. Not only do many crave a sense of safety but also equity and solidarity on which we could capitalize.”
Amina J. Mohammed is a Nigerian diplomat who is currently serving as the UN’s Deputy Secretary-General and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group. Prior to her appointment, she served as Minister of Environment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria where she steered the country’s efforts on climate action and efforts to protect the natural environment. She began her career working on the design of schools and clinics in Nigeria and served as an advocate focused on increasing access to education and health services, before moving into Nigeria’s public sector, where she advised 3 Presidents on poverty and public sector reform. GSL Director Steven Hoffman, in his capacity as Scientific Director of the CIHR’s Institute of Population and Public Health, developed the UN Research Roadmap for the COVID-19 Recovery with Mohammed’s office.
You can find the results of this fruitful collaboration here: https://bit.ly/37sG966.
Dr. Charles Richard Drew was an American surgeon and medical researcher. His research in the field of blood transfusions and developing improved techniques for blood storage has earned him the moniker “Father of the Blood Bank.” Equally important to his legacy was Drew’s dedication to racial equality in segregated America, which served to inspire a nation that was striving toward justice for all. When the need for blood plasma during WWII became apparent, the US realized that establishing the skills and networks to ship plasma could prove very valuable, Drew was tapped as the medical director of this project, which came to be known as the Blood for Britain campaign. Drew excelled at the task and upon the conclusion of the project in 1941, the American Red Cross enlisted him to start a pilot programme that included blood banking innovations such as community donation centres in storefronts, factories and ‘bloodmobiles’. Unfortunately, conflict over racial policy led to Drew’s resignation from the Red Cross shortly after his appointment. America was still wholly segregated, and the military and the Red Cross adopted a policy of identifying the donor’s race on every unit of blood collected. He died in 1950 at the age of only 45.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is an Ethiopian biologist, public health researcher, and official who currently serves as the Director-General of the WHO (WHODG). He is the first WHODG of African heritage and the first non-physician. Prior to his election as WHODG, Dr. Tedros served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Health of Ethiopia. As the latter, he led a comprehensive reform effort of the country’s health system, including a massive expansion of Ethiopia’s health infrastructure. Upon his election as WHODG, Dr. Tedros declared universal health coverage, tackling deadly diseases such as malaria, measles, childhood pneumonia, and HIV/Aids as well as plans to reform the WHO as top priorities for his term. He, of course, became a household name in 2020 when he, as the WHODG, declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and later a pandemic and has since been in charge of the global coordination of member states around the disease. His almost daily briefings on the state of the pandemic, have made Dr. Tedros one of the globally most recognizable public health leaders. In September 2020, Time Magazine included him in their 100 Most Influential People of 2020 list.
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