Assel Jabassova joined WHO in 2017 as a communications consultant at the WHO European Center for Primary Health Care in Almaty, Kazakhstan. With a keen and creative eye for detail, language and art, she also leads her own content creation agency, Text and the City. When she needs a break from juggling several things at once, she’ll sit in her favorite armchair with a book—or watch Raiders of the Lost Ark.
What is your background?
“I studied international journalism, French, and art and culture. I used to work in a creative contemporary art center surrounded by amazing people in the art world – the art scene in Kazakhstan was booming in the early 2000s Many of them became national art icons and legends in Kazakhstan and beyond. It was also there that I met my closest friends and we have been friends for more than 20 years. It was a very happy time in my life. At one point, I started working in the glossy magazine world as a culture editor at Harper’s Bazaar, then moved on to Esquire, Cosmopolitan and other women’s mags. I traveled all over the world and met a lot of interesting people .
What brought you to WHO?
After I left the women’s magazine world and had my second child, I decided to start my own content creation agency, starting with a small team. Being a freelancer is convenient for me: it’s hard work, but it also means I can be my own boss. One day a friend of mine happened to meet a WHO staff member who was looking for a local team to make a primary health care video and my friend told her, “You should meet Axel!” The rest is history .
What was it like transitioning from the fashion world to the wellness world?
It’s actually not that much of a shift. In women’s magazines we cover many health related topics such as sex education, disease prevention, breast cancer or obesity, just to name a few. Women’s health around the world has been underestimated and overshadowed, and I push hard that we cover many of these topics. We wanted to create content that was useful to our readers, and I think we succeeded. Today, I feel like I can bring out my creative side and work for the WHO European Center for Primary Health Care with all my amazing colleagues. As a team, we are very innovative. For example, in 2020 we launched a talk show about primary health care. There are many ways to spread the word about the importance of primary health care.
yes! That was so exciting. Once the idea was born, we had a lot of discussions about the format. We ultimately decided that we didn’t need speeches or teleprompters: we wanted to convey real experiences and testimonials from practitioners and people who care about the health of others. In December 2020, we aired Let’s Talk Primary Health Care for the first time. It targets policymakers, influencers and healthcare professionals across the WHO European Region, and all episodes are available online. The response is great!
What motivates you?
This is the human story. Once we did a photo story about healthcare workers caring for mothers and newborns in remote areas. It was minus 20 degrees Celsius, in the middle of winter. A medical bus took us and health workers to visit the family who had just welcomed their third son. I will always remember that crisp morning with snow everywhere. The house at home is very simple, but it is very warm inside. The temperature difference is unbelievable. Being there, seeing the amazing work the healthcare workers do and feeling the joy of family – these are the small moments that stay with you.
It’s also inspiring to work with creative, smart people — especially smart women. They are very effective at doing things in an inclusive way, and are generally not afraid to try new things. A stand-up show is a great example of what thinking outside the box can do. What’s more, the teams here prove that empathy and good teamwork combined with emotional intelligence can move mountains.
Which book is at the top of your stack?
Caroline Criado Perez’s wonderful book titled “Invisible Women” is full of facts about how women have been invisible throughout history. I’m halfway there, and it’s both infuriating and terrific.
last question. your favorite movie
My father is a geologist. Currently, he is busy saving the Aral Sea, building ponds for the critically endangered saiga antelope.We used to go on adventures with him when I was a kid – maybe that’s why I love Indiana Jones [laughs]. Whenever I’m sad or sick and can’t get off the couch, I watch Raiders of the Lost Ark. My husband doesn’t get it at all and my kids don’t get it at all, but it’s my business.
WHO European Center for Primary Health Care (Almaty, Kazakhstan)
- Number of employees: 12
- The Center is part of the WHO/European Department of National Health Policy and Systems and is a center of excellence in primary health care policy. It supports Member States’ efforts to strengthen people-centred primary health care services for everyone. Its work focuses on transformative themes emerging in the pandemic and post-pandemic period, such as applying multidisciplinary approaches, forming primary health care networks, strengthening population health management, etc.
- The center is made up of a group of public health experts, health economists, social scientists, data experts, academics and former clinicians who share a passion for primary health care and people.
- The center was established in 2016 in Almaty, where the Declaration of Almaty was signed in 1978 and became a major milestone in the field of public health in the twentieth century, identifying primary health care as key to achieving 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 available to everyone in a way acceptable to them and affordable to the community and country.