Remembering Dr. Mwele Malecela: A Fierce and Loving NTD Leader

Last month, the public health community lost a fierce public health advocate, leader and mentor, friend and colleague to many, Dr. Mwele Malecela.

As the World Health Organization’s Director of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), Director of National Medical Research Institute in Tanzania, and champion of the 2030 NTD Roadmap that sets the path to alleviate suffering for one billion people from these devastating diseases, Dr. Malecela became one of the 100 most influential women in Africa.

While we join her family, friends and the NTD community in mourning the loss of Dr. Malecela, we also celebrate her life and the inspirational role she played as a leader. She is a shining example during the month that the world marks International Women’s Day (March 8).

We are honored to have had the opportunity to work with Dr. Malecela, learn from her, and enjoy her loving and down-to-earth charisma as she worked to eliminate some of the most disabling diseases in the world. 

Dr. Malecela was instrumental in building public health capacity around the world particularly in her leadership of the International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI), including as its Vice President, Founding Director of IANPHI-AFRICA, and her mentorship of numerous women within the organization. Dr. Malecela was also Chair of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis steering committee. 

In addition to her global accolades, she had a long relationship with many Task Force  programs. This included her role as an active research partner for the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center (NTD-SC), the Mectizan Donation Program, Children Without Worms and as a member of the International Trachoma Initiative’s Trachoma Expert Committee.

Dr. Malecela (right) with a drug distributor on Mafia Island in Tanzania. Dr. Malecela's extraordinary ability to connect to the community is a huge reason for the success of Tanzania's lymphatic filariasis elimination program which she lead. Photo credit Charles Mackenzie

In 2017, Dr. Malacela was awarded the Kyelem Prize by the Coalition for Operational Research on NTDs, for which NTD-SC is the secretariat, which is a testament to the respect her peers had for her, both as a professional and as a person. The Keyelem Prize is given annually in honor of NTD leader Dr. Dominique Kyelem to recognize people in the NTD community who have been particularly effective in bringing together those who implement NTD control and elimination.

In early 2020, The Task Force was honored to have Dr. Malecela join us for an informal conversation with our staff. Her willingness to share her time and exchange ideas and dreams for an NTD-free world touched and reinvigorated all who met her to remain dedicated to the fight that she so passionately devoted her life to.

We are saddened by her passing and miss her presence. The NTD community will not be the same without her visionary leadership, sense of humor and unfailing patience, but we will never forget her legacy.

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