Faces of WHO – Assel Jabassova, WHO European Centre for Primary Health Care, Kazakhstan

Assel Jabassova joined WHO in 2017 and works as a communications consultant at the WHO European Center for Primary Health Care in Almaty, Kazakhstan. With a sharp and intelligent eye for detail, language and creativity, he also leads his own content creation agency called Text and City. When he needs a break from delving into several things at a time, he sits down in his favorite chair with one of his books – or watches Indiana Jones.

What is your background?

‘I studied international journalism, French, and arts and culture. I used to work in a modern art center, full of creative energy, surrounded by all these amazing people in the art scene – a scene that flourished in Kazakhstan at the beginning of this century. Many of them became icons of national art and legends in Kazakhstan and beyond. That’s also where I met my best friends, and we’ve been friends for over 20 years now. This was the happiest time of my life. At one point I started working at a glossy magazine, working for Harper’s Bazaar as a culture editor, then moved on to Esquire, Cosmopolitan and other women’s magazines. I traveled all over the world and met many interesting people.

What brought you to WHO?

After leaving the world of women’s magazines and having my second child, I decided to open my own agency to create content, I started with a small team. Working as a freelancer was great for me: it was hard work, but it also meant I could be my own boss. One day, a friend of mine happened to meet a WHO employee who was looking for a local group to produce a video on basic health care, and my friend said to him, “You should meet Assel!” The rest is history.

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How was the transition from the world of fashion to health?

It really wasn’t that big of a change. In women’s magazines we have talked about many topics related to health, such as sex education, disease prevention, breast cancer or obesity, to name a few. Women’s lives around the world have been downplayed and overshadowed, and I pushed hard to cover more of these topics. We wanted to create useful content for our readers, and I think we succeeded in that. Today, I feel I can use my creative side working for the WHO European Center for Primary Health Care, together with all my wonderful colleagues. We innovate as a team. In 2020, we are launching a discussion program on primary health care, for example. There are many ways to spread the word about the importance of primary health care.

A talk show?

Yes! It was very exciting. Once the idea was born, we had many discussions about the format. We ended up deciding that we don’t want speeches or teleprompters: we want to convey the real life experiences and testimonies of workers and those who care for the health of others. In December 2020 we broadcast Let’s Talk Primary Health Care for the first time. It targets policy makers, activists and health workers across the WHO European region, and all episodes are available online. And the response has been great!

What motivates you?

It’s about people. We once did a photo story about a health worker who works with mothers and their newborns in remote areas. It was 20 degrees Celsius, in the middle of winter. A medical bus brought us along with a health worker to visit a family that had just welcomed their third son. I will always remember that cold morning, with snow everywhere. The family house was very simple, but warm and cozy inside. The difference in temperature was unbelievable. Being there, seeing the good work done by health workers and feeling the joy of a family – it’s those little moments that stay with you.

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It’s also inspiring to work with creative, smart people – especially smart women. They are very effective at what they do, in an integrated way, and are usually not afraid to try new things. The talk show is a great example of what can be done if you think outside the box. More importantly, the team here is proof that empathy and good team spirit combined with emotional intelligence can move mountains.

What book is on top of your pile?

This is a beautiful book called Invisible Women written by Caroline Criado Perez, full of facts about how women have been made invisible throughout history. I’m in the middle of it and it’s annoying and pretty cool.

Last question. Your favorite movie?

My father is a geologist. Currently, he is busy saving the Aral Sea, creating water pools for the critically endangered Saiga antelope. When I was a kid, we used to go on fun trips with him – maybe that’s why I like Indiana Jones. [laughs]. Whenever I’m sad or sick and can’t get off the couch, I watch Indiana Jones movies. My husband doesn’t understand it at all, and my kids even less, but it’s my thing.

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WHO European Center for Primary Health Care (Almaty, Kazakhstan)

  • Number of employees: 12
  • The center is part of WHO/Europe’s Division of Country Health Policies and Systems and serves as a center of excellence in primary health care policy. It supports Member States in their efforts to strengthen people-centred primary health care services for all. Its work focuses on themes that emerged in the pandemic and post-pandemic period as reforms, such as using a multidisciplinary approach, building primary health care networks, strengthening population health management, and so on.
  • The center is made up of a team of public health experts, health economists, social scientists, data scientists, academics and former doctors who share a passion for primary health care and people.
  • This center, founded in 2016, is located in Almaty, where the Declaration of Alma-Ata was signed in 1978, which appears as a major milestone of the twentieth century in the field of public health, identifying primary health care as the key to access. of the Health for All policy.
  • Primary health care is health care received from the community, usually by family doctors, community nurses, mental health professionals, social workers and other professionals in health facilities. It should be accessible to everyone in a way that is acceptable to them, and at a cost that society and the country can afford.


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