Before I say good-bye: reminiscing a life at the World Bank

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The moment has arrived. In a couple of days, I will be retiring from the World Bank after 32 great years, serving in one capacity or another, in about 85 countries across the globe.

I have loved my work at the Bank and devoted a lot of time to it.  Indeed, for a young man from Cuenca, Ecuador, a small country in the Pacific rim of South America, joining, serving, and contributing to advance the global development agenda at the Bank became a “call to duty” that allowed me to realize the Jesuit dictum “Man for Others.”  It also gave me a borderless identity, connecting me with people from different geographies, cultures, and histories. It helped me understand that, despite our seemingly differences, we are at the core the same human beings with families, dreams, sorrows, and aspirations.

During this period, I was exposed to but also influenced by a dramatic transformation in development thinking that gradually moved away from a rational utility maximization paradigm to a broader understanding of the complex interplay of economic, social, power structures, environmental, and technological forces that influence behavior and social life. 

Poverty, inequality and inclusive economies ceased to be part of a radical discourse. They were mainstreamed into the core of the global development agenda.  While a balance was struck between the need to exploit the benefits of markets and tame their excesses, to make sure that they work for all, greater attention began to be placed on the role of learning, advances in science and technology, the primacy of building systems and institutions, and the rule of law, for wealth creation and improved standards of living. Investment in health, nutrition, and education, were no longer seen as expenditure, but rather as a vital allocation of resources for human capital development as the foundation of opportunity, economic growth, and inclusive societies.

In the public health sphere, I got involved in the discussions and efforts to overcome prevailing false dichotomies: infectious vs noncommunicable diseases; primary care vs hospitals; vertical programs vs health systems.  Also, health and disease moved away from purely biological categories to embrace their broader social and environmental determinants.  At the operational level, “sectoral silos” started to gradually wither away, facilitating the emergence of multisectoral approaches to deal with complex, interconnected causes of ill health and injury, premature mortality, and disability.

Over the years, I had the privilege of working with an extraordinary group of colleagues, who were passionate about their work.  As teams from different disciplines, we contributed to strengthening health systems across Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and Africa. 

We helped craft a regional response to HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, making the case in the early 2000s that treatment was prevention.  We worked hard to shine analytical light on the growing challenge posed by the increase in the relative importance of noncommunicable diseases, first in Brazil in the late 1980s, and subsequently in Chile, Russia, China, and in sub-Sahara Africa. 

We put together a large global emergency response to deal with the Avian Influenza and Food Security crises in 2006 and 2008, respectively, and we were ready again in the summer of 2014, working with governments and partners, to address the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. 

In recent years, I contributed to positioning the tobacco taxation agenda as a win-win-win policy for public health, domestic resource mobilization, and equity, within the Bank and across the world in countries such as Colombia, Indonesia, Moldova, Lesotho, Nigeria, Russia, Tonga, Vietnam, and Ukraine. 

We also partnered with different institutions to bring mental health out of the shadows, promoting the integration of mental health services as part of primary health programs at the community level, and under the Global Financing Facility (GFF) to address maternal depression and its impact on child health.  We also advocated for the need to identify entry points such as psychosocial support as part of the curricula in primary and secondary schools; inclusion of mental health services as part of broad support programs for displaced people and refugees; and raising the importance of mental health as a “top line” investment under health and wellness- in-the-workplace programs. Working with our infrastructure colleagues, we also contributed to making road safety a priority component in transport programs by highlighting the preventable heavy toll of road fatalities and injuries.

Do I fear a void after leaving the Bank?  Perhaps at the beginning, but while enjoying the blessing of having a close-knit family, I will move forward to new fronts where I could contribute with knowledge and experience gained over the years, particularly to support the next generation of public health practitioners.  I will also do well by remembering the lyrics of a song by the great Argentine folk singer, Mercedes Sosa, Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto” (“Thanks to life, which has given me so much”). 

To close, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all at the Bank, partners and governments who have collaborated with and supported me in this wonderful voyage over the past three decades.  Para adelante!

 

Related:
Mental health homepage
Tobacco homepage

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Authors

Patricio V. Marquez

Lead Health Specialist, Health, Nutrition and Population Global Practice, The World Bank

Join the Conversation

John Panzer
July 29, 2019

Patricio-- Congratulation for reaching this point of a very well deserved retirement and the start of a new phase in your lide.
I have always admired your passion for your work and your outstanding professionalism.
Wish you all the best! Un abrazo John

PS. "Gracias a la Vida" is a song by the great Chilean Violeta Parra. :-)

Patricio
July 30, 2019

Thanks John. Indeed the great Violeta Parra is the songwriter but the singing by Mercedes Sosa made the song immortal.

Albert Figueras
July 29, 2019

Dear Patricio,
Thanks for sharing these enlighting words on different ways to work for public health today.
Also, great thanks for sharing your clever thoughts each time we have had the opportunity to collaborate, in the field of medicines, specially with antibiotics.
Good luck! And I'm sure that our paths will cross soon in Latin America. There is a long way to do yet!

Gracias y un abrazo!

Paolo
July 29, 2019

Dear Patricio,
Thanks so much for your work, for being such a passionate, supportive and resourceful colleague.
It is almost unbelievable to see that the time has come for you to leave. Best of luck for your future journey! Un abrazo,
Paolo

Francisco Becerra
July 29, 2019

Estimado Patricio
Te deseo un activo retiro. Se que no te quedarás quieto. Fuerte abrazo
Francisco

Sameh El-Saharty
July 29, 2019

Dear friend and colleague Patricio,

I can’t believe that the time has come that soon. Although we didn’t work closely together but you were always an inspiring force for me. Your passion about public health and your fights to move the agenda forward on many many fronts from HIV/AIDS, to Ebola, to NCDs and Tobacco, has always been impressive and inspirational to me and surely other colleagues.

I hope that we always stay in touch noting that I’ll always call upon your advice for knowledge and experience. Wishing you the best of luck my friend.

Sameh El-Saharty

Gauden Galea
July 29, 2019

Dear Patricio, what a marvelous summary of the main trends in public health from one of its protagonists over the past three decades. You have given a human face to your own organization. You have led the field with passion. You have inspired untold hundreds. Your personal legacy is recorded in the millions of lives that you have improved around the world. And we, who count ourselves lucky to be your friends on the journey, wish you a splendid continuation. We will see you in the next phase, refusing for now to say goodbye. With best wishes for your, and your family’s, health and happiness, ~ Gauden

Florence Berteletti
August 01, 2019

Dear Patricio,

I cannot imagine the WB without you. I had no idea that 2019 was your last year and you will be sorely missed....You have contributed so much and I remember with great pride the event you agreed to participate at in Brussels when I was working for the Smoke Free Partnership. Your contribution to fiscal policies is huge and I feel very sad that I won't be able to invite you to the launch of our event on the 23rd of September in New York during the HLM on UHC. I hope that our path will cross again. Warmest wishes and congratulations on all you have achieved! Florence Berteletti