Pregnant women affected by floods wait for a check-up organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Cainta, Philippines on Oct.8, 2009.
Ted Aljibe—AFP/Getty Images
By Casey Quackenbush
October 4, 2017

The World Health Organization announced its new senior leadership team Tuesday, and more than 60% of the appointees are women.

“The team represents 14 countries, including all WHO regions, and is more than 60% women, reflecting my deep-held belief that we need top talent, gender equity and a geographically diverse set of perspectives to fulfill our mission to keep the world safe,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. The five men selected to lead the agency are Dr. Peter Salama, Dr. Bernhard Schwartländer, Dr. Ranieri Guerra, Dr. Ren Minghui, and Stewart Simonson.

WHO is the international public health agency of the United Nations responsible for combating infectious diseases, eliminating hunger, and promoting global development. The agency’s proclivity for women’s empowerment is particularly significant, as study after study show that gender diversity in leadership is necessary to improve global health policy. Evidence suggests women and children bear a disproportionate burden from sickness and death due to lack of access to care, finance and education.

Here’s a look at the line-up of women that will soon be leading the way in global health strategies:

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director-General of Programs

A pediatrician from India, Dr. Swaminathan is widely renowned for her work with HIV and tuberculosis. She is currently the director general of Indian Council of Medical Research whose work in research and clinical care spans three decades.

Jane Ellison, Deputy Director-General for Corporate Operations

Ellison is a former U.K. Parliamentarian who has spent more than 30 years in both the public and private sectors working in politics, commerce and change management. As Public Health Minister from 2013 to 2016, she spearheaded the U.K.’s response to the Ebola crisis.

Dr. Naoko Yamamoto, Assistant Director-General for Universal Health Coverage and Health Systems Cluster

For the last 30 years, Yamamoto has worked in Japan advancing the country’s leadership role in global health and promoting universal health care. Most recently she served as Senior Assistant Minister for Global Heath in Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

Professor Lubna A. Al-Ansary, Assistant Director-General for Metrics and Measurement

Hailing from Saudi Arabia, Al-Ansary is a Professor of Family Medicine at the College of Medicine and head of the Clinical Practice Guidelines Committee at King Saud University (KSU). After advancing evidence-based health care in Gulf Countries since the 1990’s, Al-Ansary became one of the first female MPs to ever join Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Council.

Dr. Svetlana Akselrod, Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health

Dr. Alsekrod draws from 15 years of experience in public health coordination and global health diplomacy. She has previously served as Coordinator at the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases, and represented Russia in the WHO Executive Board and for the World Health Assembly.

Ambassador Michèle Boccoz, Assistant Director-General for External Relations

Boccoz is a seasoned French diplomat who has worked with the U.N. the OSCE, and most recently, as France’s Ambassador for the fight against HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases.

Dr. Mariângela Batista Galvão Simão, Assistant Director General for Drug Access, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals

Dr. Mariângela Batista Galvão Simão has worked for the last 30 years toward enhancing and decentralizing Brazil’s public health system. She is the former Director of Community Support, Social Justice and Inclusion at UNAIDS.

Dr. Princess Nothemba (Nono) Simelela, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women, Children and Adolescents

Dr. Simelela has spent 30 years working in South Africa as an obstetrician, academic, advocate and government official. Most recently, she served as Special Advisor to the Vice President of the Republic of South Africa.

Dr. Joy St John, Assistant Director-General for Climate and Other Determinants of Health

Dr. Joy St John has spent more than 20 years in public health management and health diplomacy, and 10 years serving as Chief Medical Officer of Barbados.

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