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Mark Tomlinson appointed to WHO group for maternal, child health

Article published on Stellenbosch University News

In what he has described as a big honour, Prof Mark Tomlinson, co-director of the Institute for Life Course Health Research (ILCHR), has been appointed to a key advisory group of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Tomlinson will be part of the Strategic and Technical Advisory Group of Experts (STAGE) for Maternal, Newborn, Child, Adolescent Health and Nutrition for a term of three years from May, 2020 to 2022.

The STAGE advisory group which reports directly to the director-general of the WHO, will provide strategic and technical advice to the WHO on matters relating to Maternal, Newborn, Child, Adolescent Health, and Nutrition (MNCAH&N) and will inform the WHO Primary Health Care (PHC) and Universal Health Coverage (UHC) agendas.

In an interview just before the first meeting of the advisory group – which was virtual instead of in Geneva as previously planned – Tomlinson said he was also “pleasantly surprised" at his appointment to the prestigious group.

“I am a massive supporter of what the WHO tries to do and have done work for them in various capacities, including having helped write the 'Nurturing care for early childhood development: A framework for helping children survive and thrive to transform health and human potential'. Being part of the STAGE group feels like a way of contributing to the WHO agenda.​

“The WHO has a massive legitimacy and reach worldwide, and it feels great to be able to make a contribution to global public health," he said.

“This group will help the WHO with formulating priority packages relating to universal health coverage, primary health care, quality of care and other areas"

Tomlinson said another task of the advisory group will be to provide advice on the WHO guideline process. WHO guidelines are based on the best available evidence and are “key documents that help governments in health service delivery".

Tomlinson, a clinical psychologist by training, but now working in Public Health research, said much of his work with the ILCHR starts with pregnancy and follows mothers, children and families across time – in one case over a period of 17 years – and observes what happens to individuals across that life course.

In the last three decades the world has seen a massive drop in the number of children dying from preventable causes – down from 12 million in 1990 to about 4 million per year currently.  “This has been a remarkable success for global health initiative. We have now moved away from a predominant focus on survival to one where we also think about how to help the children that do survive also thrive," he said. 

“This is the perspective I would like to bring to this group. What do we need to do across the life course to help children thrive? How do we build the important early foundations and then build on those as children and adolescents develop".

Author: Sue Segar

Photo credit: Stefan Els


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