Offering the latest news in health care quality and safety, the ISQua blog also features guest posts from the best and brightest in the industry.

By Louis Ako-Egbe Tuesday. Nov 27, 2018

Tales from a one-month experience at WHO headquarters, Geneva

During my flight from Cameroon, which lasted over 10 hours with a five-hour transit at Istanbul, I couldn’t stop imagining how it will feel entering the city of Geneva and Switzerland. I had read about Geneva to be a great historical city with rich touristic attractions and host to head offices of many international organisations. However, this would be my first time of visiting the city, besides having being to other cities in Europe. The anxiety reached summit level as my airplane safely landed in the Geneva international airport.


It was a fairly sunny Saturday evening when I arrived Geneva. My landlord had kindly accepted to pick me up from the airport to my residence. This was an additional point of excitement for me – to discover the apartment and see if it resembled the fancy pictures I had received from the landlord. So, after I successfully checked in through the immigration, it took a little while before I could see my landlord holding a paper with my surname boldly printed on it. As we drove to Annemasse (border town in France) through the city centre of Geneva, I couldn’t help to notice how Geneva was different and very spectacular from other European cities I have visited in the past.


Street view of Geneva


The city of Geneva welcomed me with unusual quiet, tranquillity and peace. The streets were exceptionally clean and cars well-packed in lots. The sense of order in the city was impeccable. The architecture was unique, especially the legendary United Nations building with the monumental “Broken chair’ standing very tall at the Palace de Nations. The efficiency of the public transportation system was immediately very prominent. I can go on and on describing the remarkable view of Geneva.


Palace de Nations The broken chair


The more I appreciated this view, the more it daunted on me why Geneva had been the seat of the League of Nations, now the United Nations and all her agencies. How could anyone miss the spectacular Water jet as you drive across the Geneva lake. The number and category of banks in the city easily speaks to the financial stability therein.

Geneva Lake


It was shocking to see a frontier between two countries like France and Switzerland without police or custom officers. The city of Annemasse, France was unique in its own like. The kindness and warmness of my landlord was directly reflected in the cosiness of the apartment he finally took me to. It was exactly a representation of the images he had sent to me. After settling in to the apartment, I had to figure my way around the supermarkets and transportation. The position of the apartment was strategic, as it is close to the bus station.


Then came Tuesday, the 2nd of October that I had to start my internship at WHO. The second event that surprised me was the fact that after paying a bus ticket I had to stand in the bus for over an hour to get to my destination. It was always a rush to grab a seat in the bus during the busy hours of the morning. However, I sometimes had to painfully sacrifice my seat to an elderly person or pregnant woman standing without a seat. All was fun and a discovery of the city of Geneva and the diverse cultures that exist there in – about six on average.




Arriving at WHO, I was fascinated by the beauty of the environment and the firmly reinforced and respected ‘smoke free zone’ within the premises. The reception was very warm and the receptionist produced a unique access batch for me, bearing my photo and identification information, upon presentation of my contract letter almost immediately. How efficient this was. I was very anxious to meet with my supervisor and the quality unit team. Then I made my way to the fourth floor and room 4149, tagged Dr Shams Syed. This was at about 9:00 and I was just about asking from a fellow intern in the room where I could meet the coordinator of the unit. About 3 minutes into our conversation, came this wise and intelligent-looking man who walked in to the room and greeted us with a warm smile – “You must be Louis? I am Shams”, he said. Then I immediately felt the energy and passion in his personality and that underpinned his work. These features characterised the rest of our discussions and my interaction with the team. The vision for the unit was clear, the values well-stated and the team well-coordinated. I knew immediately that I was in the right team.


Smallpox eradication statue


My first week at the unit was dubbed ‘read and meet’. Dr Shams handed out to me a number of booklets, publications on quality, literature on leadership and other links for me to read and acquaint myself with the current knowledge on quality and work areas in the unit. My objectives where revisited and tagged to particular subunits and focal persons working on various projects. From the second week I found myself already assisting in some major projects in the Quality Systems and Resilience unit. Prominent among these areas were the Twinning Partnership for Improvement (TPI) in quality and the Global Learning Laboratory (GLL) for quality improvement. For the TPI, I drafted the approach paper for the situational analysis of the health system of Timore-Leste, building on the desk review that has been carried out by the team. This was intended to inform the ongoing work on the Macau-Timore-Leste partnership. In addition, I co-developed the assessment tool (questionnaire or question box) for a situational analysis to be conducted in Timor-Leste. Besides, I developed a synthesis paper from the material gathered from the compassion co-development call and the ISQua session on compassion at the Kuala Lumpur conference. These deliverables were realised through the direct supervision of Nana Mensa, whose energy and dynamism in the team cannot be overlooked. Support also came from the coordinator, Katthyana and other great minds in the team. One characteristic, among many, that stands out in the QSR unit is the co-development approach and team spirit. This approach always led to a rich piece of work which reflected the diversity of knowledge, experience, passion and energy within the team.


Currently, I am co-developing the concept on quality in fragile, conflict and violent (FCVs) settings. In addition, am co-reviewing the WHO Global Public Goods to inform the 2019-2023 GPW13 (13th Global Programme of Work) strategic plan, alongside other volunteers in the Transformation team of WHO headquarters.


I have been greatly inspired by the leadership demonstrated by Dr Shams and his team in the course of their work and coordination in the QSR unit.


Dr Tedros


Moreover, the transformation agenda and vision of the DG of WHO, Dr Tedros is a great source of inspiration to my work as a health district manager. One of my favourite moment at WHO was the brief encounter I had with Dr Tedros during his meeting with the interns at WHO/HQ. His sense of vision, humility and passion left indelible prints in my mind of what true leadership should be. He acknowledged the strengths, weaknesses and even threats faced by WHO; understood the challenges that exist in instituting change; and clearly defined the new direction (GPW 13) for the organisation in the 21st century, with a strong sense of conviction. These and many other aspects, are the qualities I hope to take back home to strengthen my leadership at the district.


How can health districts be redefined to fit into the transformation agenda of WHO and be able to deliver quality Primary Health Care for effective UHC? This is the question I have to answer by the end of this internship and I know I will achieve this mission with the assistance of ISQua and WHO. I acknowledge the dedication and great inputs from my mentors for the Emerging Leader Programme (Prof. Bruce Agins and Dr Emmanuel Aiyenigba).



Sign Up for our newsletter and receive a monthly digest of news!

Become A Member Today

We all have two vocations in health care – to do our job and to continually improve