Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the first woman to lead the World Health Organization's Africa office, is a trailblazer in the health industry who overcame apartheid in South Africa to become one of the top health administrators in the world, Mshale reports.

Moeti is one of the world’s most prominent voices lobbying for more consideration of Africa’s people, especially women, who’ve been impacted the most by COVID.

Although she has given leadership to several health crises including the world’s deadliest Ebola outbreak, her greatest challenge may be leading Africa through the complexities of the global coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m certainly doing my best to be there not only as a technician and a manager and a leader, but also very much as a woman from the region, from the continent,” Moeti said. “At the same time … I’m looking forward to the day when it will no longer be notable that there’s a woman leading an organization.”

As she carries out her duties of helping African nations with testing and vaccinations, one of the hallmarks of her administration is gender equity in the health industry. Since her time in office, the ratio of men to women has changed to four female directors and four male directors. Prior, it was three women to six men.

“Very often I’m thinking about those people who are most frequently disadvantaged and missed by the health services … the kind of adolescent girl, that person who is transitioning from being a child taken care of by the child health services to being a woman of reproductive age with all the vulnerabilities that that that implies in Africa,” Moeti said.

Because of her commitment to launching campaigns around health awareness and conducting monthly field visits, Africa has shown lower rates of COVID-19 in comparison with the rest of the world, which she says is due to lower testing levels. Since the beginning of March, just over 13% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated.

“The difficulties have really been about learning about this new virus, adapting quickly, and helping countries to do the same,” she said. 

She still maintains that Africa faces unique challenges. At the start of the pandemic, only a few African nations had the meansy to test for COVID-19, now almost every nation has the capability. Because Africa has been dependent on imported vaccines, the continent experienced lengthy delays as wealthier nations purchased the inoculations first.

Even with all the difficulties, Moeti hopes that her ascension in the health industry will inspire young African girls to pursue higher education and leadership positions in the field. 

“I’m a child who was in the South African township and running around the streets,” she recalled. “I hope that will encourage them.”