Flavia Senkubuge is a medical doctor, a specialist in public health medicine and a global public health advocate based at the University of Pretoria’s school of health systems and public health. Along with being chair of health policy and management, she is also the current president of the Colleges of Medicine South Africa (CMSA), one of the most prestigious bodies of medicine in Africa.
Being raised in an environment where she says women had a voice and were successful in their own right shaped the woman she is today, and her definition of success is about making a difference in the world. “I remember as a young girl being raised around women who were teachers, doctors, nurses, housewives and farmers, but each one of them had one thing in common, the drive to make a difference,” says Senkubuge.
This is clear in the multiple roles she holds that all seem to reflect the intersectionality of her interests and values. Senkubuge is the first black woman and the third woman to be president of the CMSA in 65 years. As well as being the current chair of the World Health Organisation’s African Advisory Council on Research and Development — where she is responsible for advising on matters concerning health research and development in Africa — she is also the vice-president of the African Federation of Public Health Association, an organisation concerned with promoting public health in Africa. As the president of Women in Global Health South Africa, Senkubuge is involved with achieving gender equality within global health leadership.
Senkubuge says her work is rooted in the African philosophy of ubuntu and that at heart she is a philanthropist who is passionate about mentoring young people. She says she wants to be able to make a difference not only in one person’s health, but also for the entire population. “By having a seat at the table and therefore contributing to global health policy, I am able to impact and make a difference to population health globally, and that is what drives me.”
When asked about some of the challenges she has faced in her career, she cites ageism, minimisation and invisibility, adding that she shares this with many other career women. Senkubuge believes that the most important thing that needs to change is health injustice, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. “There needs to be a realisation of our interconnectedness as people. Once we realise that ‘I am because we are — or ubuntu — it will become easier to advocate and implement many of the desires we have for the health system in South Africa and globally. Our global health systems have to be based on values and driven by social solidarity.”
There needs to be a realisation of our interconnectedness as people. Once we realise that ‘I am because we are’ — or ubuntu — it will become easier to advocate and implement many of the desires we have for the health system in South Africa and globally.