Dr Mwele Ntuli Malecela

The highly influential public health leader and LSHTM graduate, Dr Mwele Ntuli Malecela, passed away in Geneva on 10 February 2022.
Dr Mwele Ntuli Malecela

Dr Malecela was born on 26 March 1963 in Dar es Salaam. Her father was former Tanzanian Prime Minister and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, John Malecela. 

Dr Malecela specialized initially in lymphatic filariasis and, after completing her education, which included an MSc (in 1990) and PhD (in 1995) from LSHTM, was proud to be appointed Director of Research Coordination and Promotion at the National Institute for Medical Research of Tanzania. In 2000, she was promoted to Director of the national Lymphatic Filariasis programme.

A trailblazer in her field, she became, in 2010, the first female Director General of Tanzania’s National Institute for Medical Research. In 2017, Dr Malecela joined WHO’s Regional Office for Africa as Director in the Office of the Regional Director. In that role she was responsible for providing policy, managerial and diplomatic advice, coordinating and facilitating the plan of work for all units working in the region, as well as monitoring the implementation of policy decisions made by WHO governing bodies. She also provided support to the Regional Director on strategic directions of WHO’s work in the region.

In October 2018, Dr Malecela was appointed by WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to her defining role as Director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, based at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

In her regrettably short time as Director, she led the worldwide neglected tropical diseases community in pioneering and far-reaching work, culminating most notably in the development and publication of the new road map for the control, elimination, and eradication of NTDs in the decade leading up to 2030. A visionary document, Ending the neglect to attain the Sustainable Development Goals: a road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021-2030, was launched in January 2020 and welcomed by NTD workers at national and programme levels as well as by workers in the field for its clear commitment to core principles. These included a focus on autonomy and empowerment, ensuring individual countries were given the power to effect change on behalf of their populations: principles which defined Dr Malecela’s engagement both professionally and personally.

Dr Malecela dedicated her life and career to improving the lives, health, and wellbeing of the most vulnerable. An eloquent and passionate speaker, her approach was characterised also by strict adherence to honesty and integrity on behalf of the people and causes in which she believed. She preferred the truth over seeking to please and this earned her widespread respect.

Dr Malecela also understood clearly her role as an African woman in the predominantly male field of science. She consistently broke through glass ceilings and remained conscious of the role she had to play in empowering and mentoring the generations of women who will follow her. Always generous with her time, her energy and her wisdom, she encouraged and inspired younger people from around the world to see science, in the service of global health, as viable and vital avenues for their talents.

Dr Malecela will be remembered as an inspirational figure, a dedicated leader and committed listener. She deployed her many qualities in the service of ideals, all of which were firmly rooted in community and in the intrinsic value of people’s lives. In keeping with this, she was also a truly warm and loving friend, colleague and mother. Her death will be felt deeply and personally by many across the globe, but her inspiration, enthusiasm and unstinting engagement will continue to serve as a guide to all who knew her.