INTERVIEW: New Secretariat Director aims to maintain consensus as GPZL moves forward

Bill Gallo, Secretariat Director, Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy (GPZL)

Bill Gallo is used to sudden changes in conditions from his years of working in the field for the CDC. Leprosy Bulletin interviewed him in October, while he was required to work from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He shared ways that GPZL is staying focused on zero leprosy so that both short-term needs and long-term goals can be met.

LB(Leprosy Bulletin): GPZL is a global partnership. In your experience, what’s the secret to getting international collaboration to succeed?

BG(Bill Gallo): Collaboration begins with a shared vision and clear goals. To succeed, partners must commit to a mutually agreed-upon structure that outlines the roles and responsibilities of each member. We are fortunate to have a strong and diverse network of partners with decades of field experience and knowledge of leprosy.

While there has certainly been collaboration in the leprosy community before the formation of GPZL, this level of consensus among shareholders is new. We all envision zero leprosy: no disease, no disability, and no discrimination. This shared understanding was the first step toward successful international collaboration, which resulted in the creation of our research agenda and best practices toolkit. Now we are working to maintain consensus as we move forward with country program implementation, research acceleration, and resource mobilization.

LB: It’s not easy to get governments to give priority to leprosy at the best of times. How has GPZL been adapting its strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic?

BG: At the time of the outbreak, I was still in my previous position at the CDC, and I was the team lead for the COVID-19 response for the US-Affiliated Islands. Nearly everyone I spoke with indicated that COVID-19 response activities were monopolizing public health attention and resources and impacting other public health programs.

Upon joining GPZL in September, I was immediately impressed with the Partnership’s response. GPZL first took action in March with the formation of three working groups that address the needs of the leprosy community in the face of the pandemic.

Working Group 1: Leprosy Emergency Operations Committee (LEOC) released a report addressing issues in the supply of leprosy treatment drugs and the treatment of leprosy and leprosy reactions. This group supports the work of National Leprosy Programmes.

Working Group 2: Emergency Advocacy for Persons Affected works with persons affected to gather information on their needs during the pandemic and share information about government and NGO response to those needs.

Working Group 3: Post COVID-19 focuses on thinking critically about future health scenarios and developing a path forward for the leprosy community in a post-COVID-19 world.

Since the formation of these working groups, we have also announced our 2020 country partners. Although some of our work with these new partners has been delayed as a result of COVID-19, we are adapting our support for countries to meet the needs and capacities of National Leprosy Programmes in the present moment.

LB: Public health messaging, especially for a stigmatized disease such as leprosy, is always challenging. How does GPZL approach messaging?

BG: Consensus on public health messaging from within the Partnership is key to reaching a broader audience with a clear and consistent message. We work with our partners to develop understanding and build knowledge. For example, our COVID-19 Response Working Group 2 facilitated consultative calls with persons affected by leprosy around the world to collect data on ways the pandemic has impacted persons affected. The working group published a report detailing the challenges facing persons affected at this time, which is available on our website. Working with our persons affected partners to gather this information elevated the challenges persons affected face and illuminated needs for our NGO and government partners to address.

LB: Do you have any suggestions for the WHO Goodwill Ambassador? How can he help GPZL achieve its goals?

BG: The WHO Goodwill Ambassador’s work to amplify the voices of persons affected by leprosy has been enormously valuable to the leprosy community. This continued support for persons affected organizations and individuals is aligned with our work to support advocacy efforts of organizations of persons affected by leprosy, as well as individuals with first-hand experience of the disease. We recognize that persons affected by leprosy are often the individuals leading leprosy care and advocacy efforts at the regional and community levels, and we look forward to continued collaboration with the Goodwill Ambassador in supporting the efforts of persons affected by leprosy.

LB: Finally, how do you personally understand your role as a public health professional?

BG: As a public health professional, I can help people gain the knowledge, ability, and will to take actions that promote a healthy lifestyle and prevent disease or injury.


Bill Gallo
Secretariat Director, Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy (GPZL)
Bill Gallo joined the Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy (GPZL) in September
2020 as Secretariat Director. Prior to joining, he worked for the US Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for 33 years, mostly in field assignments
where he served as the primary link between local health department/ministry
leadership and the CDC.


NO.101 DECEMBER 2020