Photo taken when Rita Sá Machado was still head of department at the DGS. Image: Mário Cruz/ Lusa
Photo taken when Rita Sá Machado was still head of department at the DGS. Image: Mário Cruz/ Lusa

WHO advisor becomes Portugal’s new director general of health

Rita Sá Machado worked with WHO during pandemic

After months in which no-one knew who was going to take the baton as Portugal’s Director General of Health, the Ministry of Health has nominated 36-year-old Rita Sá Machado for the role, thus finally relieving Graça Freitas, 66, who technically resigned last year, but has had to ‘stay on’ until her successor was decided.

Ms Sá Machado is no stranger to the DGS (general health directorate). She used to run the department of Epidemiology and Statistics, but left for a job with the World Health Organisation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The note released by the health ministry yesterday said that: “Rita Sá Machado completed her integrated master’s degree in Medicine at Nova Medical School and has a master’s degree in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. With a degree in Travel Medicine and Mobile Populations from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto, she also has a postgraduate degree in Health Management from Católica Porto Business School and a postgraduate degree in Medical Education from Harvard Medical School”.

The doctor, who worked in Geneva in the area of Health and Migration, was also a counsellor for Migration and Humanitarian Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

She began her career at the Vila Nova de Gaia/Espinho Hospital Centre, having also worked in the public health area at the Directorate-General for Health, the Northern Regional Health Administration and the Lisbon and Tejo Valley Regional Health Administration (Almada Seixal Health Centre Group).

“The Minister of Health wishes the new Director-General of Health every success and takes this opportunity to thank the previous Director, Graça Freitas, for the dedication and quality of her work over the many years she dedicated to the institution and the public cause,” concluded the statement.

This new posting runs for five years in which many eyes will still be on the possible consequences of the Covid pandemic, and how future pandemics might be handled. The World Health Organisation is understood to be pushing for a Global Treaty – which is not universally popular for the perceived powers it could remove from sovereign governments – even voices in Portugal have spoken out against the treaty, albeit without the response that was hoped for.

With Rita Sá Machado a former WHO advisor, questions may follow as to whether this means the new director general of health is in tune with the WHO’s ambitions for ‘global pandemic preparedness’.

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