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The UN’s Top Doc Checks Out to Return to Australia: Our Latest Podcast Episode

Dr. Jillann Farmer, the UN medical director for more than seven years, has returned to Australia to work for the Department of Health in Queensland. She led the UN’s internal health care system through such crises as the Ebola outbreak in 2014, but the coronavirus pandemic required the UN’s biggest medical-emergency response yet when it hit New York City in March.

Dr. Jillann Farmer managed her share of crises as the United Nations medical director since 2012, including the Ebola outbreak in 2014 in West Africa and the Syrian chemical attacks that occurred soon after that epidemic. In February, Dr. Farmer decided she was ready to move to a new job after more than seven years at the UN to return to her native Australia.

As medical director, Dr. Farmer had been in charge of the organization’s health care system, including providing oversight for UN personnel worldwide and more than 400 health care services, from primary care clinics to military forward medical services and hospitals. But when the coronavirus pandemic quickly incapacitated New York City by mid-March, putting the thousands of UN employees working at the headquarters at risk, UN Secretary-General António Guterres asked Dr. Farmer to stay on a bit longer to help the UN deal with the new situation. (PassBlue reported exclusively on Dr. Farmer’s departure on May 12.)

In this exclusive podcast interview, Dr. Farmer, who is now in Australia, shares her perspective on the UN’s preparedness and response to the pandemic, particularly in New York City, which went into lockdown in mid-March. “The biggest challenge was the headquarters of this vast global organization was also at the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States,” she said. (As of May 17, the UN confirmed there were 520 cases globally among its personnel. In the Americas, that includes 147 cases, 78 of them in New York. The number of confirmed deaths is seven, at these entities: Food and Agriculture Organization, Unicef (two), UN Office for Project Services, WHO, World Intellectual Property Organization and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.)

And though she misses the skyline and excitement of New York City, she has other distractions in Brisbane, she said, where her home sits on seven acres of bushland, “with our very own kangaroos, koalas and kookaburras” — a stark contrast to her previous place in New York City, a 580-square-foot apartment.

To hear the episode, download from SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, Patreon, SpotifyStitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.

Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.

Kacie Candela is an assistant editor for PassBlue and a news anchor and reporter with WFUV, a public radio station in the Bronx, N.Y., where she covers the UN and other beats. Her work has won various awards from the New York State Associated Press Association, New York State Broadcasters Association, PRNDI, and the Alliance for Women in Media.

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