Over the past few months, attention has increasingly been focused on a group of people who are thoroughly unaccustomed to the global spotlight. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, doctors, scientists and public-health officials have become mainstays of the daily news. Armed with graphs, facts and plenty of tough talk, their every word is eagerly devoured. And in the process they have become part of the story themselves.
However, whereas some have spawned legions of fans and even become the subject of lovelorn ballads, others have been seen to fare less well. Here we look at 10 health officials who, whether they like it or not, have become the most unlikely of household names.
Monocle comment: It’s heartening that we’re listening to experts again. When the virus passes, monocle hopes that we’ll still keep an ear out for those offering sage words about their fields of expertise.
About the author: Kitchens is a writer in monocle’s Toronto bureau. The thought of appearing on live TV, let alone hosting a global press conference, terrifies him.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Fauci has contended not only with a pandemic but also the president’s outsized ego. While Donald Trump rarely listens to anyone he has, for the most part, heeded Fauci’s advice. The 79-year-old has served six presidents in the same post since 1984. His cult-hero status is commemorated in everything from bobbleheads to doughnuts decorated with his face – a mug that inspired a petition to name him People magazine’s “sexiest man alive”.
Luiz Henrique Mandetta, former minister of health
Being good at your job is typically a good way to avoid getting fired. Not so if your boss is Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. Not only did Bolsonaro resist Mandetta’s sensible physical-distancing advice, he went out of his way to shake hands when out meeting the public – and then sacked the minister for disagreeing with him. Apparently, when Brazilians saw the news of Mandetta’s dismissal on TV they could be heard cursing the president from inside their apartments.
Catherine Calderwood, former chief medical officer
Not all of our health advisers are being lauded. Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, resigned after flouting her own office’s rules to stay put and leave home only for essential purposes. Instead, she visited her holiday home in Fife – twice.
That prompted Scottish police to issue her with an official warning. Calderwood has since resigned in the hope of not undermining her office’s messaging – but it’s surely a little late for that.
Sotiris Tsiodras, chief coronavirus adviser
Epidemiologist Sotiris Tsiodras’s silver-speckled hair has become
a reassuring sight for Greeks tuning in to his daily TV briefings. Although Tsiodras might not be polished – he’s often nose-deep in his notes – a recent poll found that a whopping 95 per cent of respondents like him. Despite an economic crisis that weighed heavily on the nation’s health system, Greece has fared far better than expected. Clear messaging has
played an important part.
Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s health officer
As far as we can tell, Bonnie Henry is the only public-health official to inspire her own footwear: a bright pink leather heel from Vancouver-based designer John Fluevog. Printed on the sole of The Dr Henry is her coronavirus sign-off: “Be kind, be calm and be safe.” Henry has become beloved for her demeanour and wealth of experience. Nigel Howard, the sign-language interpreter often flanking her, has also inspired his own fan clubs thanks to his impassioned signing.
Jung Eun-kyeong, director-general, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The cdc’s rapid rollout of testing under Jung was key to slowing the virus’s spread. She also negotiated with the cult-like Shincheonju Church of Jesus, whose secret gatherings spread the virus, to identify and quarantine those who came into contact with its followers. South Koreans are now protective of Jung, expressing concern over her workload. Reportedly, she spends all her time in emergency-care centres, leaving only to eat or take a nap.
Christian Drosten, chief virologist at Berlin’s Charité hospital
According to Twitter, Drosten is Germany’s most famous doctor since Dr Oetker. As a global leader on coronaviruses, he’s understandably a trusted adviser to chancellor Angela Merkel. Tired of the media twisting his messaging, he started a daily podcast, Das Coronavirus-Update, to provide Germans with the same information as their leaders. It quickly shot to the top of the country’s podcast charts, while also making him a celebrity – something he’s apparently unhappy about.
Chris Whitty, chief medical officer
Although the efforts of the UK’s even-keeled, ultra-intelligent chief medical officer have by and large been applauded, his colleagues – prime minister Boris Johnson and health minister Matt Hancock – didn’t exactly lead by example when they were photographed well within two metres of each other at No 10 Downing Street, and Whitty wasn’t far behind them. All three later came down with coronavirus symptoms and Johnson was hospitalised, leaving the country without a leader. The three men have since recovered.
Zhong Nanshan, senior medical adviser
The 83-year-old pulmonologist has garnered the public’s trust for his willingness to contradict the Chinese government. In 2003, for example, he publicly questioned assurances that Sars was under control. This year he confirmed that coronavirus could spread from person to person, despite the fact that the government had not yet disclosed that detail. Regardless, the Communist party of China still celebrates him as a hero, even playing up his weightlifting skills. The fate of other medical whistle-blowers has been far harsher.
Ashley Bloomfield, director-general of health
Apparently Bloomfield gets sheepish when listening to the love song written about him by a fan that includes the line, “They say Ashley’s a snack but I want a Bloomfield meal.” In response to a petition to make him New Zealander of the year, he simply said, “I’m lucky to be part of a fantastic team.” It’s a good point: let’s not forget the hundreds of public servants and medical professionals involved in this fight. They might not be household names – but they’ll be just fine with that.