Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Named World Health Organization Ambassador
24 May 2019
Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Laureate known as “Africa’s Iron Lady,” has been appointed Health Workforce Ambassador by the World Health Organization (WHO). Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected female president, stepped down from office in January 2018, marking the first peaceful and democratic transfer of power in the previous 73 years of Liberia’s war-torn and tumultuous history. She has since become the first woman to be honored with the prestigious Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, first awarded to Nelson Mandela, for her transformative leadership of a country broken by 14 years of civil war and devastated by the Ebola Crisis. President Sirleaf also serves as a member of the Elders, an organization of independent global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights. The Elders are currently led by former President of Ireland Mary Robinson and former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
President Sirleaf received worldwide admiration for her leadership during the 2013-2016 Ebola Crisis which killed nearly 5,000 Liberians. She is also credited with rebuilding her nation’s health system post-epidemic, including the launch of a historic National Community Health Assistant (CHA) program. CHA deployed over 4,000 health workers to serve the 1.2 million Liberians living more than 5 km from the nearest health center. President Sirleaf, a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School, spoke about her experiences at Harvard University in 2018 in a session sponsored by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. A “health for all” champion who has supported grass roots efforts with a focus on primary care, President Sirleaf will continue her advocacy through her work with the WHO, the Elders and other organizations. “The world’s health system is only as strong as its weakest link,” she has said. “Investing in primary healthcare is the best way to detect and stop local outbreaks before they become global pandemics.”
Almost as active in retirement as she was as head of state, President Sirleaf is also a popular speaker on women’s leadership, human rights, and the economic and geopolitical outlook for Africa. At the heart of her keynotes is her inspiring life story, as told in her critically acclaimed autobiography, This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President.