By: Rachel Shapiro
Question: Could you tell me about what sparked your interest in health in the Americas and what led you to your current position as Deputy Director of PAHO?
Dr. Danel: So I had always been interested in global health, that’s related to my family, who…came from Europe. And in fact, I remember when I was eight, my hero was Albert Schweitzer. So from a very age, I was interested sort of in health globally. And when I, after I finished my residency and worked a little bit…I really wanted to do something globally and, in fact, originally I wanted to go to Africa. And….I looked at Zimbabwe, but when I went there to visit and see whether I’d fit in, it was clear, they wanted me to work in a big city and be a hospitalist and I just…that’s not what I wanted to do at all. I wanted to be out with people…So I looked around some more at possibilities and Nicaragua was going through social change, and I was interested in social change, and kind of experiencing that. So I went to Nicaragua…and then I went into the ministry of health in a small town…and I said do you by any chance need a doctor? And they looked at me and said, “yeah, when can you start?”…I worked both with medical students and provided care in the hospital but then moved into more public health related areas and did a lot of work with the ministry of health in that region on TB…As I said, once you learn a language, it just opens a lot of doors, and since that experience…I’m a Latinophile, I’ve kept my interest in Latin America, when I did my research at the London School, I did it in Nicaragua and Honduras…When I went to CDC, I was an EIS officer…but what I did was work with group that was working with surveys in Latin America, so I just continued that interest throughout my career, and that became the director ultimately of the regional office for central America and all of that body of experience and expertise led to my becoming the deputy director of the Pan-American Health Organization.
Dr. Danel: So, in my position I actually am in charge of what are known as the enabling functions, so I work on…planning and budget, which includes strategic planning. So that’s obviously critical cause it’s sort of deciding what we as an organization want to focus on. I’m also in charge of external partnerships, communications, governing bodies, ethics,…but as the deputy director, when the director is not there, which is very very often, she travels a lot, I am in charge of the organization of headquarters. So that means that I influence what’s happening in our other departments, which include the technical departments that provide technical assistance, communicable diseases, non communicable diseases, health system strengthening, and…others. So it’s a very broad experience…. This is my first experience with a multilateral organization, which is very different from work, well, in some ways it’s different, in some ways it’s not, from working in a government institution like CDC. I think the UN has been heavily criticized, and many multilateral organizations have been. So I think partly, this is about being an effective organization, and, you know, using the money that we’re getting from —our budget comes from countries, from members states who pay assessments—so we want to be effective, we want to be efficient, we clearly don’t want any corruption… So there is an issue related to bureaucracy… so it’s there to ensure that there isn’t corruption and we do things right, but we also want to kind of make sure that it doesn’t get into the way of the work that we’re trying to do. So I think that’s one of the things that I’ve learned. I’m not sure I’d say that I’ve learned, my learning isn’t finished. But that’s clearly something. I think I’ve learned a lot about…so when I worked at CDC…it’s different than what we do at PAHO where we bring lots of governments together to talk about issues. So the way that problems or differences of opinion get sorted out, the way that negotiations happen, and the long sometimes what feel like interminable discussions over words, but they do get sorted out and it is important that we do that and everyone feels comfortable and happy with the resolutions that we have. So I’m learning about that as well, sort of how decisions are made in this multilateral setting and how to make good decisions there.
Question: What are your goals moving forward [in your position]?
Dr. Danel: I think that the area that I spoke about today—equity—is the area that I’m most interested in and the one that I want to focus on from a technical point of view and contribute to and ensure that as our organization moves forward that we’re always focusing and ensuring that equity is on the frontburner and not somewhere on the backburner… It feels like, I think towards the end of your career, you really want to, feel like this is the last opportunity to do something. And for me, it has to be about equity and a lot of different ways, and that’s really what I want to focus on. So that is my goal, to ensure that I do that. I think I spent the first year and a half at PAHO really learning about the organization and figuring out what I have to do, and but now that’s sort of what I really want to look at.