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In Memoriam - Dr Mwele Ntuli Malecela

11 February 2022

SCI Foundation is greatly saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague, Dr Mwele Ntuli Malecela, Director of the Department for Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases at the World Health Organization, and observer to the SCI Foundation Board of Trustees.

Dr Malecela’s contribution to the cause of control and elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases was tremendous in its breadth and impact. Starting as a junior scientist in the field of lymphatic filariasis (LF), she established and led the Tanzanian LF elimination programme, and later became the first woman to lead the Tanzanian National Medical Research Institute. Subsequently, she joined the WHO Regional Office for Africa, before taking up her role as Director of the Department for Control of NTDs at WHO in Geneva in 2018.

Dr Malecela brought a transformative approach to her directorship. This was best symbolised by the 10-year NTD road map developed under her leadership, with its three paradigm shifts: from process to impact measurement, from vertical to cross-cutting approaches, and from donor-led priorities to country ownership. She embodied these shifts as everyday principles in her work, championing the cause of cross sectoral collaboration, and taking every opportunity to put endemic countries at the heart of decision making.

In 2020, Dr Malecela joined the SCI Foundation board of trustees as an observer. Her wisdom and experience helped cement a confident vision for our newly independent organisation, and provided confidence in our operational model.

Dr Malecela’s influence was not limited to her professional abilities. She will be remembered for her unique combination of strength and conviction, together with unparalleled humility and warmth. Her openness and inclusivity with regard to all points of view, regardless of background or seniority, made her a leader followed and cherished by all. Having faced many personal and professional challenges throughout her career, she championed the involvement and leadership of women, and African women in particular, in health research and management roles.

Speaking on International Women’s Day in 2019, Dr Malecela said:

“As scientists, a fundamental principle of our work is based on recognising and removing bias from our studies. And just as I believe in the scientific process, I believe in recognising and removing bias from our social and institutional processes. The importance of unlocking the potential of our female colleagues around the globe so they do not have to fight quite so hard to reach their potential cannot be emphasised enough, and I believe that the responsibility for doing that belongs to all of us.”

The loss of Dr Malecela will be felt profoundly by SCI Foundation and by the entire NTD community, as we strive to honour and fulfil her rich legacy.