Health

New UNICEF Chief of Health, Dr. Mickey Chopra, outlines challenges

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Chief of Health Dr. Mickey Chopra began his new post at UNICEF headquarters in New York in August 2009.

NEW YORK, USA, 1 September 2009 – One month into his new post as UNICEF Chief of Health and Associate Director of Programmes, Dr. Mickey Chopra has identified relations with regional and international partners as a top priority for his tenure.

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UNICEF headquarters’ role, Dr. Chopra said in a recent interview, is to support regional and country offices and “to provide that extra value in terms of technical assistance.” Maintaining strong relations with partners, he added, is equally important.

“My goal will be to make sure that UNICEF is seen to be adding value to what they’re doing,” he explained, noting that the agency’s presence on the ground throughout the developing world provides “key insights” for other humanitarian action groups.

Experience in southern and eastern Africa
This is Dr. Chopra’s first position at UNICEF. Prior to this appointment, he directed the Health Systems Research Group of the South Africa Medical Research Council. He was also on the faculty of the School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.

As a former district medical officer in Hlabisa, KwaZulu-Natal, Dr. Chopra has rural health care experience and a broad understanding of the particular development challenges facing southern and eastern Africa.

“It’s the only region in the world that has actually seen an increase in child mortality in the past decade,” he said, noting the rise in child deaths in Kenya, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “And there are various problems included in coping with an increase in mortality that go beyond the health care.”

Dr. Chopra pointed to the HIV epidemic in eastern and southern Africa as an example of how trends in migrant labour, the effects of gender inequality and other cultural practices all contribute to the epidemic. Understanding such connections, he noted, is fundamental to approaching health challenges worldwide.

‘The right person … at the right time’
A British national, Dr. Chopra holds medical and medical sociology degrees from the University of Southampton in England, as well as a Ph.D. from the University of Uppsala in Sweden. He will lead UNICEF’s work in maternal, newborn and child health, as well as immunization, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and scaling up global health care systems.

Dr. Chopra succeeds Dr. Peter Salama, who held the Chief of Health post from 2006 until his recent relocation to Zimbabwe, where he is the now the UNICEF Representative.

“Mickey Chopra inherits one of the most important and challenging jobs in global health today,” said Dr. Salama. “He has a rare ability to see the linkages across programmes – from health systems to HIV to nutrition to maternal and child health. He is the right person in the right place at the right time.”

Focus on MDGs
Reflecting on the policy work to be done, Dr. Chopra expressed optimism that gains in the fields of child mortality and HIV/AIDS are a good guarantee that the associated Millennium Development Goals (MDG 4 and MDG 6, respectively) will be met – if not globally, certainly in many parts of the world.

“We are turning the tide in terms of HIV in young people,” he said. “The message is getting through. Behaviour change is happening, condom use is going up and so we feel that this is a success story.”

But Dr. Chopra is less hopeful about the achievement of MDG 5, which calls for reducing maternal mortality by 75 per cent by 2015. A lack of sophisticated technology in much of the world is largely to blame for deaths of women with complications in pregnancy and childbirth, but Dr. Chopra also sees a role for UNICEF’s advocacy.

Maternal health, he said “has not been high enough on the agenda, either on the global or the local level.”


 

 

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26 August 2009: UNICEF’s Chief of Health, Dr. Mickey Chopra, discusses the priorities he sees for his new post.
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