A stalwart campaigner who fought on global health issues affecting the Commonwealth’s 2.4 billion people has sadly died.
Mbololwa Mbikusita-Lewanika was a health adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat, where she worked for 16 years.
During that time she worked relentlessly to improve the health of citizens across the Commonwealth, including promoting Universal Health Coverage, addressing non-communicable diseases and working towards eliminating cervical cancer.
Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika, from Zambia, passed away earlier this month after battling a longstanding health condition.
Her dedication and passion were highlighted as recently as last month when her final article was published.
She discussed the commitment of Commonwealth countries to achieve the health-related Sustainable Development Goals and outlined examples of good practice from member states that are making healthcare accessible to all.
She wrote: “Although good health is a human right, there are many challenges in ensuring that the most marginalised have access to quality health services and are not left behind.
“Those who are most often left behind include the poor, people with unpredictable incomes, those who have no power over household resources, as well as people that are geographically remote from main urban centres. Thus, groups such as women, older people, children and the disabled tend to be most disadvantaged when it comes to accessing quality health services.
“The main challenges to access include poverty, user fees (official and unofficial) and social isolation, as well as barriers based on age, gender, religion, culture, geography and legal status. Additionally, inadequate quality and supply of care and services, as well as lack of effective community and individual participation in decisions, all undermine universal access. It is an uphill battle to overcome these challenges.”
She went on to showcase efforts being made by various Commonwealth countries to accelerate Universal Health Coverage through investment and planning, stating how the different examples “demonstrate the importance of sharing best practice around different approaches to making healthcare accessible and organising its funding.”
“The Commonwealth Secretariat health programme enables such experience-sharing and supports the efforts of member countries through facilitating collective Commonwealth action and consensus, as well as the development of an information and price-sharing database for essential medicines, vaccines and health technologies and the development of a UHC Financing Toolkit,” she concluded.
Although she did not emphasise her own role, Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika played a pivotal part in this Commonwealth work.
Paying tribute to her, the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said “Mbololwa stood out. She had had what she described as an ‘adventurous journey, of several intertwined roads’ which took her from a nine-year-old terrified of injections, yet mesmerised by the hospital environment, to a 17-year-old work experience schoolgirl shadowing a doctor in rural Zambia and attending post-mortems, to teaching medical students in Zambia and the UK, to advising Commonwealth governments on health, social development and justice.
“She touched so many lives during her 30-plus years of devotion to the health, spiritual and emotional wellbeing of others.
“On occasions too numerous to count I watched her weave that special Mbololwa magic, at each Health Minister Meeting, indeed in each meeting.
“She had the ability to be the difference. It is clear from the letters which have poured in from across the Commonwealth that she was greatly loved and valued. Everyone speaks of her patience, her kindness, warmth and skill.
“Apart from her many awards for health and science, public speaking and leadership, she took immense pride when she met her former students, now influential men and women making a difference in health, education, social justice, business and other fields across the world. Each has much to thank her for. So do we.
“She will be missed.”
Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika received her education at the University College Cardiff (Bsc), the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (MSc Pharm.Science), and Kings College London (PhD, Ethnopharmacology).
She was a greatly revered member of the team at Kings College London where she spent a substantial period of her working life.