Nigeria’s Alakija Appointed WHO Special Envoy

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Dr. Ayoade Alakija.
Dr. Ayoade Alakija.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has appointed a Nigerian, Dr. Ayoade Alakija as the WHO Special Envoy for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator).

Alakija, a medical doctor with a masters’ degree in public health and epidemiology from The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is a global health leader and activist who has deployed diplomacy to bring the global north and south together in coordinated responses to the pandemic.

In her previous role as chief humanitarian coordinator for Nigeria, Alakija led the Oslo Humanitarian Conference for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, working with governments and multilateral institutions to mobilise responses to some of the most under-recognised humanitarian crises in the world. While based in Fiji, she worked closely with the WHO and UNICEF to design, coordinate and implement national health and behavioural surveys across the Pacific region.

Alakija joins former prime minister of Sweden and WHO’s current Special Envoy for ACT-A, Carl Bildt, in this role.

In her capacity as special envoy, she will help lead the collective advocacy for the ACT-Accelerator, mobilising support and resources to deliver against its new Strategic Plan and Budget launched on October 28, 2021 and ensuring that the response is characterised by accountability, inclusion and solidarity.

Also, she will support the leaders of the ACT-Accelerator’s three product pillars (vaccines, tests, treatments) and cross-cutting ‘connector’, consult widely on the work of the ACT-Accelerator, advise the director-general, ACT-Accelerator principals and stakeholders on emerging issues and represent the ACT-Accelerator in key national and international fora.

Alakija joins the ACT-Accelerator at a critical moment in the global COVID-19 response, where the emergence of new variants of concern and missed global coverage targets leave large swathes of the world’s population unvaccinated, untested and untreated. The need for equitable access to vaccines, testing, treatments and personal protective equipment (PPE) remains vitally important to bringing an end to the acute phase of the pandemic.

A statement by WHO said the ACT-Accelerator partnership, a coalition of leading public health organizations, is the only global initiative offering an integrated, end-to-end solution to expedite the end of the pandemic through the accelerated development and equitable distribution of vaccines, tests and treatments.

The statement said in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been a leading voice calling for the urgent reimagining of how the globe should respond more consciously to the COVID-19 pandemic. Alakija is also the co-Chair of the African Union’s African Vaccine Delivery Alliance and founder of the Emergency Coordination Centre in Nigeria, building on her work with over 100 nations around the globe.

“Dr. Alakija brings a tremendous track record in advocating for equitable access to vaccines, tests and treatments, especially for Africa,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “She joins us at a critical juncture in the fight against COVID-19, with the Omicron variant threatening to further constrain equitable access to vaccines, just as the pace of supply was improving. We are very much looking forward to working with her to advocate for the full financing of the ACT Accelerator and to meet the global targets for COVID-19 vaccination, testing and treatment.

“This moment in time calls for a powerful, inclusive and accountable shift in the way we have thus far responded to COVID-19 and the devastation it has caused and continues to inflict on us. This is a pivotal opportunity for that shift to happen. The collective voices, energy and resources of communities, researchers, scientists, private sector and political leadership must be galvanised and deployed with the courage to ensure that we vaccinate the world, strengthen our public health systems, reimagine pandemic preparedness and ensure that we stop the current injustice and ongoing waves of death in its tracks. This is within reach, but only if life in Mumbai matters as much as life in Brussels, if life in Sao Paulo matters as much as life in Geneva and if life in Harare matters as much as life in Washington DC. I come to this role to serve and to be part of a team that will ensure that the fruits of our collective work bring meaningful access and dignity in health in this pandemic that is felt in every village, town and city,” Alakija added.

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