At its 75th anniversary, WHO honours former leaders for their contributions to public health
Since the World Health Organization (WHO) was founded in 1948, the world has faced many public health challenges that have required countries around the world to act together and in solidarity to find solutions driven by science.
In its 75 years of existence as the leading health organization in the world and in Africa, WHO has come a long way. And even if there are still many challenges to overcome in achieving “Health for All”, especially in Africa, WHO has distinguished itself by leading many initiatives that have contributed to improving the health and well-being of populations around the world. These achievements would not be possible without the will, commitment and dedication of men and women of every country in the world.
On the occasion of the celebration of its 75 years of existence this year, on the margins of the 73rd session of WHO Regional Committee for Africa, the Regional Office paid well-deserved tribute to the eminent personalities who have contributed, over the past seven decades, to the fulfilment of its noble goals.
In the main hall of the Gaborone International Conference Centre (GICC) on August 29, 2023, former Regional Directors of WHO AFRO, ministers, heads of partner agencies and institutions were honoured in the presence of the President of the Republic of Botswana, His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi, the Vice-President Mr Slumber Tsogwane, Minister of Health and Well-being Dr Edwin Dikoloti, the former President of the Republic Festus Mogae and his wife, the Director General of WHO Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus Adhanom, and Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
The ceremony, rich in colour, wonderful speeches and edifying testimonies, was also an opportunity to retrace the great victories achieved by the organization in terms of health and well-being of the African population. Also applauded were the major challenges overcome by each of the Member States, with the support of WHO and other partners, towards the achievement of UHC and a continent free from various health threats.
In his opening remarks, Botswana’s Vice-President Mr Tsogwane highlighted his country’s achievements, with the support of WHO, in the fight against epidemics, towards controlling both communicable and noncommunicable diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV, polio, cervical cancer, as well as increasing vaccination coverage. These remarkable results were thanks to innovative policies and strategies based on promotion of primary health care, he stressed.
Dr Moeti warmly thanked GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, the African Union and all other partners for their invaluable support for the success of WHO's ambitions for health and well-being of African populations. She also retraced WHO’s path, and its major milestones, since its creation in 1948.
These include the fight against infectious diseases, the development of onchocerciasis and meningitis programmes, the introduction of vaccines, the championing of access to primary health care. Notable tangible results from these initiatives had contributed to an increase in life expectancy and a reduction in HIV infections, she said.
Dr Moeti invited Member States to invest in their youth, who are the future of the continent, and in the value of research and technology, while reaffirming her commitment to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The commemoration of WHO’s 75th anniversary, on the sidelines of RC73, also served as a framework to honour and decorate eminent personalities, who through their various contributions and commitment, carried the torch of the organization high. The awards were presented to recipients or representatives of their governments, and included Botswana’s former President Festus Mogae and all five former WHO Regional Directors for Africa, four of them posthumously.
Other recipients included Dr Assamoah Baah, WHO’s former Assistant Director General; John Nkengasong, Global AIDS Coordinator of the US and pioneering Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control; Congolese researcher Francine Ntoumi; Dr Ndong Edo from Equatorial Guinea, and Sister Marie-Blanche Kambire from Burkina Faso.
Speaking on behalf of the awardees, Dr Luis Sambo, former WHO Regional Director for Africa, congratulated Botswana for its great achievements in the health sector, achievements of which he said Africa and the world were immensely proud.