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Decolonizing Global Health Leadership

While achieving global health goals must be a collective effort, who paves the way can make all the difference. That is why it is not enough simply to include people with a variety of backgrounds and lived experiences in global health initiatives; diverse figures must be given opportunities to lead.

ABUJA – Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has selected an African as its new chief executive officer. The appointment of Muhammad Ali Pate, a professor at Harvard University who is a former Nigerian Minister of State for Health and Global Director for Health, Nutrition, and Population at the World Bank, is a welcome development for the entire Global South, which is woefully underrepresented in global health leadership. But Pate’s selection alone will not correct this imbalance.

Pate’s appointment has been widely lauded. Bill Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation tweeted, “I have no doubt he will bring learnings from his impressive career in Nigeria and at the World Bank to ensure children have access to lifesaving vaccines.” Gavi Board Chair José Manuel Barroso, a former European Commission president, echoed this sentiment, noting that he looks forward to “working closely” with Pate to advance vaccine equity.

Barroso is right to highlight the issue of equity. As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, there remain massive disparities in global health-care delivery, with some high-income countries having hoarded lifesaving resources, especially personal protective equipment and vaccines. What the media labeled “vaccine nationalism” was, at its core, lethal selfishness, for which the Global South paid the price.