Rita Thapa, MPH '65
Distinguished Alumna Award
Founding Chair Person, Bhaskar Memorial Foundation;
Pro-Bono Executive Director, Bhaskar Initiative for School Heart Health Empowerment Studies; Nepal;
Visiting Professor, School of Public Health, BPK Institute of Health Science, Dharan, Nepal;
Health Policy Advisor, Ministry of Health and Population
Rita Thapa’s career spans 56 years now of distinguished leadership in maternal and child health, primary health care, and community health in Nepal and internationally. She earned her MPH from Johns Hopkins in 1965, and is widely known as the visionary founder of Nepal’s primary health care system, which has been responsible for making Nepal a global leader in reducing maternal and child mortality in spite of the political turmoil that Nepal has experienced for the past three decades. Heading the Community Integration Project in 1975, she created a countrywide network of District Health Offices, Health Posts, Village Health Workers, Mothers’ Groups, and Female Community Health Workers. She is one of the few people still living who attended the famous 1978 International Conference on Primary Health Care at Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, representing Nepal and signing the Declaration of Alma-Ata, which is now considered the “gold standard” for primary health care programs around the world.
After serving in Nepal’s Ministry of Health for nearly 20 years, she joined in 1986 the World Health Organization in Manila, Geneva and New Delhi, retiring in 2001 as the Director of the Department of Health Systems and Community Health. After retirement, working as Senior Health Policy Advisor, Thapa has contributed to various public health policies, recently in restructuring health services into Federal, Province and Local Municipality levels in 2017, including to Nepal’s Public Health Act 2018. She has been working on non-communicable disease control and research, and many other high-level activities nationally and internationally.
In 2014, she was awarded Honor Plaque by Minister of Health and Population, at a public function for initiating and expanding the Government’s Family Planning-Maternal & Child Health services up to rural areas of Nepal. In 2016 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Nepal Public Health Foundation in recognition of her “years of dedicated service in the field of public health and her personal example of leadership and competence of the highest standards of excellence and inspiration to all.” In 2018, Thapa received Life Time Achievement Award from Perinatal Society of Nepal in recognition of her outstanding contribution and service to Perinatal Health in Nepal.
She delivered a keynote speech on the 40th anniversary of the Alma-Ata Declaration at the invitation of the Bloomberg School in September 2018.