Assel Jabasova 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 creative eye for detail, language and arts, she also heads her own content creation agency called Text and the City. When in need of a break from juggling several things at a time, she sits down in her favorite armchair with one of her books – or watches Indiana Jones.
What’s your background?
‘I studied international journalism, French, and arts and culture. I used to work at a center for contemporary art, filled with creative energy, surrounded by all these amazing people in the art scene – a scene that was driving in Kazakhstan at the beginning of this century. Many of them became national art icons and legends in Kazakhstan and beyond. That’s also where I met my closest friends, and we’ve been friends for more than 20 years now. This was a very happy time in my life. At one point I started working in the glossy magazine world, working for Harper’s Bazaar as a culture editor, then moving on to Esquire, Cosmopolitan and other women’s magazines. I traveled all over the world and met many fascinating people.
What brought you to WHO?
After I left the world of women’s magazines and had my second child, I decided to open my own agency for content creation, starting with a small team. Working as a freelancer was very convenient 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 staff member who was searching for a local team to produce a video on primary health care, and my friend told her, “You should meet Assel!” The rest is history.
What was it like to transition from the world of fashion to health?
It actually wasn’t that big a transition. In the women’s magazines we covered many health-related themes, such as sexual education, disease prevention, breast cancer or obesity, only to name a few. Women’s health all around the world has been undervalued and overshadowed, and I pushed hard for us to cover many of these topics. We wanted to create content that was useful for our readers, and I think we succeeded in that. Today, I feel I’m able to use my creative side working for the WHO European Center for Primary Health Care, together with all my amazing colleagues. We’re very innovative as a team. In 2020, we launched a talk show on primary health care, for instance. There are many ways to spread the word about the importance of primary health care.
On a talk show?
Yes! It was very exciting. Once the idea had been born, we had lots of discussions regarding the format. We ended up deciding we didn’t want speeches or teleprompters: we wanted to convey the real-life experiences and testimonials of practitioners and those caring for other’s health. In December 2020 we aired Let’s Talk Primary Health Care for the first time. It targets policy-makers, influencers and health care professionals all over the WHO European Region, and all episodes are available online. And the response has been great!
What inspires you?
It’s the human stories. Once we did a photo story on a health care worker who works with mothers and their newborns in remote areas. It was minus 20 degrees Celsius, in the middle of the winter. A medical bus brought us and the health worker to visit a family who had just welcomed their third son. I will always remember that crisp morning, with snow everywhere. The family’s house was very simple, but so warm and cozy inside. The difference in temperature was incredible. Being there, seeing the fantastic work that health care worker did and feeling the family’s joy – it’s those small moments that stay with you.
It’s also inspirational to work with creative, intelligent people – especially with smart women. They are very effective in what they do, in an inclusive way, and are often unafraid of trying new things. The talk show is a great example of what can be done when thinking outside the box. More importantly, the team here is proof that empathy and good team spirit paired with emotional intellect can move mountains.
Which book is on the top of your pile?
It’s this great book called Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, filled with facts on how women have been rendered invisible throughout history. I’m halfway and it’s both infuriating and excellent.
Last question. Your favorite movie?
My father is a geologist. At the moment, he’s busy saving the Aral Sea, creating water ponds for the critically endangered Saiga antelopes. When I was a child, we used to go for exciting expeditions with him – that’s maybe the reason why I like Indiana Jones [laughs]. Whenever I’m sad or sick and can’t leave the sofa, I watch Indiana Jones movies. My husband doesn’t understand it at all, and my kids even less, but it’s my thing.
The WHO European Center for Primary Health Care (Almaty, Kazakhstan)
- Number of staff: 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 everyone. Its work focuses on themes that emerged in the pandemic and post-pandemic period as transformative, such as applying a multi-disciplinary approach, forming primary health care networks, strengthening population health management, and others.
- The Center is composed of a team of public health specialists, health economists, social scientists, data specialists, academics and former clinicians who share the same passion for primary health care and people.
- The Centre, established in 2016, is located in Almaty, where the Declaration of Alma-Ata was signed in 1978, emerging as a major milestone of the twentieth century in the field of public health, identifying primary health care as the key to the entertainment of the goal of Health for All.
- Primary health care is health care received in the community, usually from family doctors, community nurses, mental health specialists, social workers and other professionals in health centres. It should be universally accessible to everyone by means acceptable to them, and at a cost that the community and country can afford.