African women have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic according to Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Head of the World Health Organisation’s Regional Africa Office.
She is the first woman to occupy one of the world’s top health positions. Her challenge now is to help Africa respond to the pandemic.
“We know that gender based violence went up tremendously in some countries. You know, rape and sexual abuse of women, young girls went up a lot because everybody was locked up at home, children not going to school and so on. So from the health side, I believe it’s been difficult for everyone, but particularly difficult for women. And secondly, if you look at women’s roles in families of caregiving for families: first looking after sick people in the family; childcare is generally given by women”, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
As WHO’s Africa chief, Moeti initiates emergency responses to health crises in 47 of the Continent’s 54 countries while also recommending policies to strengthen their healthcare systems.
One of her main achievements while in office has been to increase the presence of women inside the organisation.
“I’m very happy to be the first woman to occupy this position, and at the same time, I feel then a need to demonstrate what I’ve achieved. That, you know, at the end of the day, I’m looking forward to the day when it will no longer be notable that there’s a woman leading an organisation, when it will have become part of the norm that either a woman or a man can lead an organisation. So I feel a huge sense of being privileged, being proud”, added Africa’s first health official.
Africa has lagged behind the rest of the world in dealing with the pandemic.
Vaccination rates are low in many countries with just over 13% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people fully vaccinated at the beginning of March.