Professor Bontle Mbongwe Receives the WHO Nelson Mandela Award for Health Promotion

We are pleased to announce that Professor Bontle Mbongwe, a renowned public health advocate and passionate anti-tobacco activist, has been honored with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Nelson Mandela Award for Health Promotion. This prestigious award recognizes her outstanding contributions to public health, both at country and global levels.

Professor Bontle Mbongwe, is Associate Professor of Environmental Health and Head of the School of Public Health at the University of Botswana.

Through country-level consultations that she initiated during the negotiation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Botswana’s Control of Smoking Act, 1992, was amended in 2004 to restrict smoking in public places to protect children, pregnant women and workers, raise the minimum-age restrictions for selling tobacco products, prohibiting their sale to persons under 18 years (previously it was under 16 years), and ban tobacco advertising and promotion. In 2008, Professor Mbongwe’s research contributed to influencing government policies away from the use of mercury-containing devices in health care facilities towards mercury-free alternatives. In 2014, she boldly challenged the tobacco industry by successfully advocating for the introduction of a 30% tobacco levy in Botswana. She then contributed to the country’s Tobacco Control Act, 2021, which is compliant with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Her relentless work on this helped to lead to the raising of the minimum-age restriction for selling tobacco products, prohibiting their sale to persons under 21 years, banning the sale of single sticks of cigarettes as well as requiring tobacco products to be sold by licensed persons only. Moreover, she successfully advocated for a ban on the sale of tobacco products during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through her efforts in founding the first civil society Anti-Tobacco Network in Botswana, she has played an important role in building a network of media and nongovernmental organizations committed to tobacco control in her home country as well as in the rest of Africa and beyond. Her research on smoking among young people has informed the development of initiatives such as “SKY Girls BW” and the “Most Teens Don’t Smoke” campaigns. Professor Mbongwe was awarded a World No Tobacco Day 2021 award and a WHO Director-General Special Recognition Award in 2021 for her distinctive leadership in anti-smoking.

The awarding of the WHO Nelson Mandela Award to Professor Mbongwe is a well-deserved recognition of her tireless dedication and lasting impact on public health. Her work continues to inspire progressive health policies and save lives, honoring Nelson Mandela’s legacy by promoting social justice and health equity.

As we celebrate this award, we also commend the scientific and public health community in Botswana, whose collective efforts contribute to a healthier and safer future for all.

Professor Mbongwe remains a model of commitment and leadership, paving the way for stronger and more inclusive health policies