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Women & Health Online Dialogue

Expert Group Meeting
Women and Health

the Gender Perspective into the Health Sector

Tunis (Tunisia)
28 September to 2 October 1998


Dr Olive Shisana
Executive Director - Family and Health Services
World Health Organization

The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, appointed Dr Olive Shisana Executive Director - Family and Health Services, effective 21 July, 1998. In this post, Dr Shisana will be responsible for family and reproductive health; child health and development; emergency and humanitarian action; human resources development and capacity building; HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases; research development and research training in reproductive health; and, integrated delivery of programmes and community health actions. The clustering of these areas signals a departure from the past by bringing together groups which previously worked separately on health system issues and health care outcomes. The mission will be to help improve health systems development and consequently health service quality for both providers and consumers, especially with regard to poor and disadvantaged populations.

Dr Olive Shisana was born in Petersberg, South Africa on 27 November, 1951. Dr Shisana graduated from the University of the North, South Africa in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences and went on to obtain a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology from Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland in 1978 and a Doctor of Science with a focus on Social Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1984.

Dr Shisana was Director-General of the South African Department of Health (1995-1998) where she was responsible for health policy development, transformation of the national health services, development of operational health plans and ensuring their implementation, and setting up monitoring systems. She was in charge of the National Department that implemented human resources development, reproductive health, maternal child health, and district health system HIV/AIDS/STD programmes.

Dr Shisana, in her capacity as Director-General of Health in South Africa has been involved in the piloting of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill through the Parliamentary Committees in South Africa, and also assisting in the preparation of the Sterilization Bill to ensure that human rights of persons who have disabilities are respected. She oversaw the implementation of the legislation throughout South Africa, ensuring that only those facilities that were adequately equipped and staffed were given the Ministerial authority to perform legal termination of pregnancy. Furthermore, she launched the maternal death review for South Africa as a strategy to be used to formulate a plan to reduce maternal deaths. All these were done while the health system was being transformed to ensure equitable access to health care.

As a Director-General of Health in South Africa, Dr. Shisana was the Chief Accounting Officer when the free health care programme for pregnant women and children was introduced. She was also a co-author of the policy that led to the restructuring of the South African health care system to ensure universal access to PHC which was introduced throughout South Africa in 1996. Dr Shisana began her career in the government of the District of Columbia (1986-1991) in the USA as Health Statistician and then Acting Chief of the Research and Statistics Division. She returned to South Africa in 1991 where she became the Coordinator of the Western Cape School of Public Health as well as Specialist Scientist and later Group Manager of the South African Medical Research Council, a post she occupied until June of 1994. That same year, Dr Shisana became a Special Advisor to the South African Ministry of Health as well as Technical Advisor to the National African Congress on the establishment of government and Member of the Task Force on the Demarcation of South African into Provinces.

Dr Shisana's areas of speciality include epidemiology of chronic diseases, maternal and child health policy development, health promotion, health information systems, health care financing, national health systems development, capacity building for public health research and statistical analysis. Dr Shisana has written on many of these subjects in peer reviewed journals and in special reports.

Dr Olive Shisana is married to William Shisana since 1975 and has two children.

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