It is with profound sadness that we learned of the passing of Dr Mwele Ntuli Malecela, an unshakable champion of communities affected by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) around the world. We join today with countless clinicians, scientists, advocates, and friends in mourning the loss of a visionary leader whose passion and commitment have inspired and empowered so many.
From her early career advancing research for lymphatic filariasis to her transformational leadership of the WHO Department of Neglected Tropical Diseases, Dr Mwele used her tremendous skills to bring the health needs of neglected patients to the forefront of the global health agenda. She made plain that the struggle against neglected tropical diseases is so much more than a fight against parasites and infections – that it is first and foremost a fight for human dignity and for the health and security of vulnerable and marginalized people.
Dr Mwele was a trusted advisor and friend to so many of our colleagues and partners. Early in her tenure as WHO NTD Director, she visited our offices to introduce her vision for progress toward NTD control and elimination – a vision that was instrumental in guiding the development of the WHO 2021-2030 Roadmap for NTDs.
Dr Nathalie Strub-Wourgaft, DNDi COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness Director and former DNDi Director of Neglected Tropical Diseases remembers Dr Mwele for ‘bringing something unique and very critical to the picture. She knew that how we look at NTDs needed to be about their impact on people’s lives: what losing a mother means to a young child’s future, what disability means to a father who is unable to provide for his family. She put stigma – and the impact of NTDs on mental health – on the table. And in so many ways, she brought the logic and the strategic vision, including by championing the need for innovation in diagnostic tools as a critical enabler of the test-and-treat strategies we need to employ to save lives and reach our goals for control and elimination.’
Dr Mwele shined as a bright mind and savvy negotiator, but also someone who always showed the way with humility and kindness.
Dr Monique Wasunna, DNDi Africa Regional Officer, first met Dr Mwele at a scientific conference in Uganda, early in their careers in the 90’s. ‘I knew that Mwele was someone very special right from the beginning. She had such a keen intellect and was also so kind, such a beautiful soul. Mwele’s impact throughout her career came from a very pure desire to improve people’s lives. She accompanied DNDi in our evolution as an organization and we owe her a tremendous debt as an ally and a friend. She was a fighter, and she set such an amazing example for our daughters to look up to. In the Roadmap she worked so tirelessly to foster and support, we have a clear path to reducing suffering and building prosperity in communities affected by NTDs. It has been such a privilege to know Mwele as a both a colleague and dear friend. We will carry on her fight.’
Our teams will continue to be inspired by Dr Mwele’s indelible legacy of compassion and commitment. We express our deepest condolences to her family, colleagues, and friends.