Villas&Golfe Angola
· Science · · T. Joana Rebelo · P. Edson Azevedo

Ana Ruth

«The malaria vaccine could save tens of thousands of lives a year»

PMmedia Adv.
As a child, when playing, she would gravitate towards to doctor kits and, a few years later, she revealed her secret to President Agostinho Neto: she wanted to be a doctor, just like him. 15 years have passed and, today, Ana Ruth is not only a doctor, but also a researcher. Saving lives is her day-to-day, rushing between the laboratory and the operating theatre, and alternating her patients with the ongoing work behind the creation of the malaria vaccine. Join us as we talk to Ana Ruth, a woman of science.

Who is Ana Ruth?
She is a woman from a traditional family, brought up with strict principles of discipline, rigour, respect for others and a vision that, with knowledge and work, sees set goals achieved, while togetherness and love always prevail. These legacies left by my parents serve as a beacon guiding me and as a key to various conquests within the family. I am married and the mother of three children, who, in a certain way, have given more life, love and, above all, more responsibility to my life, moulding the mature woman that I am today. 

What are your greatest passions?
My family. I lose myself in the exuberance of nature, I have countless pictures of sunsets. I love plants and flowers. I enjoy travelling and getting to know places with other cultures. I cherish music, painting and a good book. I also like cooking. 

Can you recall any details from your childhood/teenage years that hinted at the career you were going to pursue? 
As a child, when playing with dolls, I always gravitated toward for health-related kits, with syringes, etc... But the event that most inspired me was around the age of 7, when I had a conversation with President Agostinho Neto and he asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told him that I wanted to be a doctor and he said: «You will study hard and you will be a doctor like me.» I took the conversation to heart and 15 years later I became a doctor.

«There are many weaknesses in the health systems of several countries»

What has your career been like?
I graduated in medicine at the age of 22, in Angola. My career was forged in surgery for 16 years: five years in Luanda, four in South Africa and two in Brazil. I then returned to Angola where I worked in various hospitals and private clinics. In 2008, I took on a new challenge, which was to move from the clinical practice to hospital management, taking on the role of Regional Director of Health Services for Chevron in sub-Saharan Africa, which covered Angola, DRC, Republic of Congo and South Africa. I was also a member of the company’s board of directors. A challenging job. Given the nature of the work, I decided to specialise in Occupational Medicine, at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in 2015, which enabled me to better implement the concepts of Occupational Medicine and manage both aspects. After eight years, I became Regional Director of Public Health and became involved in special projects for Chevron in Africa, Europe and Eurasia, while also having a community component in the context of social investments. At the same time, representing the private sector in Angola, I am a member of the National Coordination Mechanism for the Global Fund, where I have held positions of increasing responsibility, and three years ago I took on the chairmanship of the National Coordination Mechanism for Angola, to support of the national malaria, HIV, tuberculosis programmes and building up the health system. 

You are at the forefront of revolutionary studies, one of them in relation to malaria. How does it feel to be close to discovering a cure for a disease that is so present in people’s lives?
Malaria is a curable disease, when diagnosed and treated early and adequately. Unfortunately, there are still many weaknesses in the health systems of several countries, combined with poor sanitation, inadequate response in hospital care and other social problems, which cause malaria to spread and continue to claim lives. Malaria is preventable if we reverse the above factors. Research is progressing and the hoped-for vaccine is now a reality. RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) is a vaccine that acts against the Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly malaria parasite worldwide and the most prevalent in Africa. According to the WHO, the vaccine significantly reduces malaria as well as its severity in children. If widely implemented, the malaria vaccine could save tens of thousands of lives each year. The WHO recommendation is based on the results of a vaccination pilot programme underway in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, which has reached more than one million children since 2019.  

Saving lives is a duty in your profession. What was the most remarkable experience that this career has given you?
Many remarkable experiences. Every moment is unique. Saving a life, when the prognosis is guarded and there is a high probability of death, is one of the most intense and, at the same time, motivating experiences. To come out of a successful complicated surgery and see the recovered patient’s smile is a feeling of victory. The loss of a patient, on the other hand, is extremely distressing, especially when you have the knowhow, but do not have the tools to do it in the best way. 

«Angolan women have always played an active role in our society»

Do Angolan women play an active role in this field?
Angolan women have always had an active role in our society, a role that has varied according to the phases in which the country has found itself, going through the pre-independence and post-independence periods, in which, with her husband going off to war, she took on the main role in the home and in academic training. This evolution has been progressive and on the rise. Women have played a more active role in politics, in business and in other areas, taking on leadership roles. Today we have numerical parity, a Vice-President of the Republic, President of the National Parliament, Ministers of State, women with CEO positions in companies, etc. 

What is a day like in your life?
It’s a pretty full day, which starts early in the morning with getting the family ready to go to the gym, work, school and work activities, and it ends up taking up most of my day with a very active routine. I have a bad habit of extending work until late, often not maintaining the work-life balance that is so necessary for work health. Throughout the day, I call my children and my husband to see if everything is OK, which, in a way, boosts my energy. When I’m back home, I start taking control of the household, paying attention to my children’s academic tasks. Dinner is sacred because we are all together and it’s the moment when we gather strength, organise and energise ourselves for the following day. Afterwards, I catch up on the latest, where I go through the news and have a look at my social media, to try and balance the workload.

We are celebrating the 13th anniversary of Villas&Golfe magazine, in Angola. What have these last years represented for you in your life and in the country?
The last 13 years have been about family consolidation, after the loss of my parents, the search for the strength and maintenance of the legacy left by them and passing it on to the next generations. I have ensured the moral and academic education of my children and nephews. They were years of professional growth and new focuses, of which we have been reaping the rewards. Regarding the country, there have been several political, economic and social transformations. We have had growth in some areas, with improvements in economic development indexes, but there have also been some setbacks, mainly due to the crises of recent years in the oil sector, as well as corruption and the impact of COVID-19. There is therefore a commitment to improve, mainly, social conditions in education and health, boost the economy through the rational use of our wealth and build a prosperous country in line with its potential.
T. Joana Rebelo
P. Edson Azevedo