December 6, 2022

African Youth sports advocate and player of Cabo Verde national volleyball team Ludmila Sofia Oliveira Varela bags global health leaders award. WHO chief announces five other awardees from USA, Afghanistan, UK/Lebanon, Japan and India

African Youth sports advocate and player of Cabo Verde national volleyball team Ludmila Sofia Oliveira Varela
African Youth sports advocate and player of Cabo Verde national volleyball team Ludmila Sofia Oliveira Varela

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Sunday announced six awards to recognize outstanding contributions to advancing global health, demonstrated leadership and commitment to regional health issues. The awardees included Ms. Ludmila Sofia Oliveira Varela, a youth sports advocate from Cabo Verde and player of the Cabo Verde national volleyball team.

Ms Oliviera Varela’s  work to facilitate access to sports for all provides a healthy alternative to risky behaviors among young people, and tackles the growing threat of non-communicable diseases. She holds weekly training sessions for youths in Praia City.

In 2021, she was one of the finalists of the UNESCO global competition on the ‘Power of Sport in a time of crisis’ and she has received awards in several sports competitions in the African Region.

The WHO chief Dr. Tedros himself decides on the awardees for the World Health Organization Director-General’s Global Health Leaders Awards.

The ceremony for the awards, which were established in 2019, was part of the live-streamed high-level opening session of the 75th World Health Assembly.

“At a time when the world is facing an unprecedented convergence of inequity, conflict, food insecurity, the climate crisis and a pandemic, this award recognizes those who have made an outstanding contribution to protecting and promoting health around the world,” said Dr Tedros. “These awardees embody lifelong dedication, relentless advocacy, a commitment to equity, and selfless service of humanity.” 

HONOREES OF THE GLOBAL HEALTH LEADERS AWARDS

Dr Paul Farmer

Dr. Farmer, who passed away in his sleep in February, 2022, in Rwanda, was Chair of the Department of Global Health, and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Partners in Health.  He was co-founder and chief strategist of Partners In Health, an international non-governmental organization established in 1987 to provide direct health care services, research and advocacy for those who are sick and living in poverty.

Dr. Farmer has written extensively on health, human rights, and the consequences of social inequality. Wingdie “Didi” Bertrand, co-­founder and President of Women and Girls Initiative, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband.

Dr Ahmed Hankir

A British-Lebanese psychiatrist, Dr Ahmed Hankir is Senior Research fellow at the Centre for Mental Health Research in association with Cambridge University and Academic Clinical Fellow in Psychiatry at the King’s College London in the United Kingdom. He also works in frontline psychiatry for the NHS at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and serves as Visiting Professor of Academic Psychiatry at the Carrick Institute for Graduate Studies in Cape Canaveral, in the United States of America.

While in medical school in the UK, he developed a debilitating episode of psychological distress, triggered by the traumatic events when living in Lebanon. He is author of The Wounded Healer, an anti-stigma program that blends the power of the performing arts and storytelling with psychiatry, which has been integrated into the medical school curriculum of four UK universities. He is also known for his work on Muslim mental health, islamophobia and violent extremism.

Ms Ludmila Sofia Oliveira Varela

A youth sports advocate from Cabo Verde and player of the Cabo Verde national volleyball team, Ms Oliviera Varela’s  work to facilitate access to sports for all provides a healthy alternative to risky behaviors among young people, and tackles the growing threat of non-communicable diseases. She holds weekly training sessions for youths in Praia City.

In 2021 she was one of the finalists of the UNESCO global competition on the ‘Power of Sport in a time of crisis’ and she has received awards in several sports competitions in the African Region.

Polio workers in Afghanistan

Also honored were eight volunteer polio workers who were shot and killed by armed gunmen in Takhar and Kunduz provinces in Afghanistan on 24 February 2022. Four of these polio workers were women. The eight volunteers were reaching thousands of children through house-to-house campaigns in north-eastern Afghanistan.

Their work was crucial in a country where wild polio virus type 1 is still circulating. Their names were Mr. Mohamamd Zubair Khalazai, Mr Najibullah Kosha, Mr Shadab Yosufi, Mr Shareefullah Hemati, Mrs Haseeba Omari, Ms Khadija Attaee, Ms Munira Hakimi and Ms Robina Yosufi and her brother Shadab.

ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist Workers)

ASHA (which means hope in Hindi) are the more than 1 million female volunteers in India, honored for their crucial role in linking the community with the health system, to ensure those living in rural poverty can access primary health care services, as shown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

ASHAs worked to provide maternal care and immunization for children against vaccine-preventable diseases; community health care; treatment for hypertension and tuberculosis; and core areas of health promotion for nutrition, sanitation, and healthy living.

Mr Yōhei Sasakawa

Mr Yōhei Sasakawa is the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, and Japan’s Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by leprosy. For more than 40 years, he has continued his global fight against leprosy as well as its stigma and social discrimination.

As chairman of The Nippon Foundation, Japan’s largest charitable foundation, Mr Sasakawa has been a pioneer in guiding public-interest activities by the private sector in modern Japan.

Awards speech – WHO Director-General’s Awards for Global Health 2022 at the World Health Assembly 

22 May 2022

Thank you, Madam President.

The turmoil of these pandemic years has been profound, unlike anything any of us have ever experienced. It has been a time of suffering, and of great loss. 

In the face of fear and hardship, our health and care workers have stood firm, often at great personal risk. Some paid the ultimate price. We are humbled.  

Today, I am proud to honour some exceptional individuals, who went so far beyond the call of duty, to work for the greater good, to protect life and promote health. 

Their work and dedication should be an inspiration to health and care workers everywhere. 

My first award goes to honour the work of my colleague, my friend, and one of the world’s foremost public health professionals, Dr Paul Farmer.

Paul passed in his sleep in Rwanda just three months ago, doing what he loved to do, supporting medical education at a district hospital. 

Paul was a true humanitarian, and a tireless champion of equity and health as a human right. 

He was Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Partners in Health. 

His work helped to empower health and care workers in communities around the world. He worked in places that others had given up on.  

He was also a prolific author, a passionate educator, and a dedicated mentor to many young health professionals. 

Paul once described his work as being “about hope … and about rejecting despair and cynicism.”

We carry that spirit with us, with the institutions he helped build and the many people that he inspired, as we continue the fight for Health for All. 

Today, I am honoured to invite Paul’s wife, Didi Bertrand, the co-founder and president of the Women and Girls Initiative, to accept the award on Paul’s behalf. 

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My second award goes to Dr Ahmed Hankir, for his work in empowering, dignifying and humanising people living with mental health conditions.

Dr Hankir is the Public Engagement and Education Lead at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, Disabilities and Human Rights, at the Institute of Mental Health in Nottingham, in the United Kingdom. 

Dr Hankir pioneered ‘The Wounded Healer’, which traces his personal journey of recovery from the trauma of the 2006 Lebanon War. 

This innovative work blends the power of the performing arts and storytelling with psychiatry, with the aim of reducing stigma and discrimination, and to break down barriers for access to care.

Dr Hankir has delivered The Wounded Healer in person to over 100,000 people at events in 20 countries.

His story is further evidence that people with mental health conditions can realise their dreams.

Dr Hankir, it is my great honour to welcome you and invite you to come and accept this award.

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My third award goes to youth sports advocate Ludmila Sofia Oliveira Varela from Cabo Verde, for her work promoting healthy lifestyles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms Varela is a member of Cabo Verde’s national women’s volleyball team, a youth activist on sports for health and the environment, and holds weekly training sessions for youths in Praia City. 

She has been involved in the National Program of Physical Education to facilitate access to sports for all, which provides a healthy alternative to risky behaviours among young people, and to tackle the growing threat of noncommunicable diseases.   

Ms Varela was one of the finalists of the UNESCO global competition on the ‘Power of Sport in a time of crisis’.

Ms Varela could not be with us in person, but I’m pleased to invite Dr Arlindo Nascimento do Rosario, the Minister of Health of Cabo Verde, to accept the award on her behalf. 

===

My fourth award goes to Yōhei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation, for his forty years of commitment to fighting leprosy and the stigma and social discrimination it carries. 

Mr Sasakawa is the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, and Japan’s Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by leprosy.  

Leprosy is an almost forgotten disease in many countries. 

Mr Sasakawa has visited many countries to advocate for leprosy control with national leaders and policy-makers. But he has also made a point of meeting people affected by leprosy, in some of the most disadvantaged groups. 

We are grateful for Mr Sasakawa’s dedication to working with WHO to reduce and in some countries even eliminate leprosy and to stand up for human rights. 

Mr Sasakawa also cannot be with us in person, but I’m pleased to invite Dr Nanri Takahiro, Executive Director of the Sasakawa Health Foundation, to receive the award on behalf of Mr Sasakawa.

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It is with great sadness and admiration that I present my fifth award in honour of the eight volunteer polio workers who were killed by gunmen on the 24th of February this year, in Afghanistan. 

These volunteer polio workers performed their life-saving work despite extraordinary challenges and risks.

Together, they reached thousands of children in north-eastern Afghanistan, and helped to bring us all closer to our dream of a polio-free world.

The workers we honour today include students, nurses and teachers. They leave behind grieving parents, siblings, spouses, children and communities. 

Four of the polio workers we honour today were women. 

Polio eradication would not be possible without the courageous commitment of women, who overcome extraordinary barriers to do their life-saving work. 

On behalf of WHO, I am proud to present the Director-General’s award to the families of: 

Ms Khadija Attaee;

Ms Munira Hakimi;

Mr Shareefullah Hemati;

Mr Mohamamd Zubair Khalazai;

Mr Najibullah Kosha;

Mrs Haseeba Omari;

Ms Robina Yosufi; and her brother Mr Shadab Yosufi.

I’m now pleased to invite Dr Hamid Jafari, WHO’s Director of Polio for the Eastern Mediterranean, to receive the award on behalf of the polio workers and their families.

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My final award goes to India’s more than one million Accredited Social Health Activists, or ASHAs, for their work to connect people with health services. 

ASHAs are trained female volunteers who take health services to rural, marginalized and hard-to-reach communities across India.

ASHAs provide maternal care and immunization for children; community health care; treatment for hypertension and tuberculosis; and services for nutrition, sanitation, and healthy living.

They play a critical role in India’s primary health care system, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing essential health services to millions of people. 

In Hindi, ASHA means hope. And that is exactly what the ASHAs deliver. 

It’s now my honour to invite Ms Seema Pujani, First Secretary from the Permanent Mission of India, to receive the award.

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Congratulations to all today’s awardees. 

Although some are no longer with us, all of the awardees humble us, inspire us, and help us to keep going.

Please join me once more in congratulating all of our awardees.

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