Mwele's lasting footprints in science

Dar es Salaam. The death of renowned Tanzanian scientist and researcher Mwele Malecela, 59, has left many grieving her loss owing to the trail of inspiration she has left and the many lives she touched.

Dr Malecela died on Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland where she worked as the director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) at the World Health Organisation Headquarters. In 2019 she was diagnosed with cancer.

She had a rich background in institutional leadership which saw her hold various roles including becoming director of Research Coordination and Promotion (DRCP) at NIMR in 1998 before moving on to become the director of the Lymphatic Filariasis programme in 2000. She further climbed the leadership ladder and was appointed NIMR’s director general – becoming the first woman to hold this position. However, in 2017 her appointment was revoked, after which she went on to establish an international career.

Dr Syriacus Buguzi, a co-founder of ResearchCOM, a research communication firm based in Dar es Salaam said Dr Malecela exuded a sense of professionalism at the point when politics and science were competing in Tanzania.

“I think her career inspired a number of people at a time when the public was so concerned about how researchers were being handled in Tanzania from 2016 onwards,” he expressed.

He added that Dr Malecela’s unceremonial exit from NIMR as the director general triggered sentiments among researchers who saw it as an attack on science and it was something talked about each time Mwele’s name came up. There was a way scientists perceived Dr Malecela - she symbolised professionalism. She encouraged the fight against neglected tropical diseases by championing a movement to enable the youth to learn about how and why they can combat such ailments.

Dodoma-based programme officer for Neglected Tropical Disease Control and Focal Point for Onchocerciasis Control Programme, Dr Clara Jones, met Mwele in 2010 at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences during her master’s degree.

She recalls how Dr Malecela encouraged and exposed her to different chances in the field of neglected diseases. Dr Malecela was also her supervisor in her PhD.

“We have lost a leader and a scientist who had an unmatched vision. She demonstrated it was possible to do something good even when there was no fund allocated for the cause. She worked so hard on improving the state of NTDs in the country and she will be remembered for that,” said Dr Jones.

She added: “Mwele believed in positive outcome and would push for it. She was a good mentor and supported anyone regardless of their background.”

Mr Donat Pamba is a Health Systems Researcher at the Ifakara Health Institute, he said Tanzania lost one of the most knowledgeable, strong and leading scientist. “She was innovative and organised.”

“She was more trusted globally by her ability to work on technical working groups. She stimulated and promoted public health research in Tanzania. She initiated the availability of panel national research priority to make sure no disease is left out without it being researched on.”

“With this, she wanted all researchers to identify areas that are less explored in their field to make sure they come up with different outcomes. She initiate NIMR conference every year which saw all researchers meet and share experience and ideas on how Tanzania can develop further,” said Pamba.