Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has agreed to chair the board of the World Health Organization’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health after she finishes her government role on March 11. The announcement came after a Jan. 10 meeting at the presidential palace in Santiago, during which the WHO leadership offered Bachelet the position.
“This is a major honor for PMNCH,” Helga Fogstad, the Partnership’s executive director, said in a statement. She cited Bachelet’s “tireless commitment and unwavering belief in women’s, children’s and adolescents’ rights to life, health and equality” for making her the “ideal choice to continue the important mission” of the organization.
Founded in 2005, the Partnership is currently made up of more than 1,000 member organizations in 77 countries. Its aim is to provide academic establishments, nongovernmental organizations, health care professional associations and other institutions a platform to improve maternal, newborn and child health by coordinating strategies and resources across the globe. Bachelet will head the Partnership’s governing body on a voluntary basis beginning in April, succeeding Graça Machel, the Mozambican politician and international humanitarian.
Bachelet will arrive at her new job with an extensive résumé addressing international health and women’s issues. In addition to two terms as Chile’s first female president from 2006 to 2010 and 2014 to 2018, she holds a medical degree in surgery with a specialty in pediatrics and public health. She served terms as Chile’s health minister and defense minister in the early 2000s.
Between presidencies, Bachelet was also the first executive director of UN Women, an officer with the UN’s Every Woman Every Child initiative and president of a joint initiative between the International Labor Organization and the WHO.
Bachelet is also a member of the high-level mediation board recently formed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. At one point, Bachelet was one of several female heads of state in South America, along with Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, all of whom are no longer in power.
Bachelet, 66, will fulfill the duties of her new position while living in Chile, rather than moving to WHO’s headquarters in Geneva. “The truth is that I’m going to stay in my country because I love my country and because I believe that one must continue to contribute to the degree of one’s possibilities,” she told Chilean media. She also mentioned that she was going to stay in Chile to “defend all of the reforms” she has enacted during her presidency.
Bachelet was barred by term limits from running for re-election in 2017 and will be succeeded by Sebastián Piñera, a center-right billionaire who served his first term as president between Bachelet’s two nonsequential terms.
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Chris Gelardi has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in humanities from Villanova University. He was a reporting fellow in the Global Migration Project at the Columbia journalism school.