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By Mere Tuqiri

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (July 10, 2001 - Pacific Magazine/PINA Nius Online)---High achiever Myriam Abel, of Vanuatu, feels honored to be elected chairperson of the executive board of the World Health Organization (WHO).

She is the first Pacific woman elected to such a position.

It was the Western Pacific’s turn to nominate a person for WHO chair for 2001-2002 and she was named from the four countries representing the Western Pacific on the board -- Vanuatu, Philippines, South Korea and Japan.

To become a member of the Executive Board (the executive body of the World Health Organization) candidates need vast background in public health. Abel doesn’t lack such experience.

Abel, 49, a ni-Vanuatu (with Fijian links), has since March 1999 been Director of Public Health in Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health.

Abel did her Master’s in Tropical Health at the University of Queensland’s medical school from 1993 to 1994.

She taught in Vanuatu’s School of Nursing for 10 years and has a Diploma in Nurse Education from Armidale College of Advanced Education (1984) and a Diploma in Nursing from the French Nursing School (1972).

She has pushed primary health care. The curriculum taught in the nursing school now is much more primary healthcare oriented rather than the former hospital-based program.

During her nursing days, Abel participated in a six-month attachment at Tahiti’s Mamao Hospital doing pediatrics and midwifery nursing. She was, at the time, the head of the then-French maternity ward.

One of the responsibilities of the executive board is preparing WHO's budget and programs.

Abel's thoughts, apart from such high profile areas as HIV/AIDS?

"Mental health is coming up as one issue that member states/WHO needs to put some thought to.

"TB, for instance. It’s still a major public health problem.

"All these communicable diseases that are not yet eradicated."

What does Abel see in her election?

"I started off as a nurse. I followed my interest. What I am today, I’m happy and I think I’ve done some things that people have considered important.

"I’m the kind of the person that likes things to be done in logical, sequential order and I would never leave tasks unfinished.

"When something’s got to be done, it has to be done from A to Z. And my colleagues know me very well for that.

"I’m very clear in what I want to do."

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