In Memoriam: Jose Barzelatto (1926 – 2006), IPPF/WHR Board Advisor
To speak about Pepe, as he was known to his friends, is to speak about the history of reproductive health and rights. After a distinguished career as a medical professor in his native Chile, he advanced to positions of great international influence, including director of the Special Program in Human Reproduction at the World Health Organization, in Geneva, when I first met him in the late eighties. Back then he was already a trailblazer, taking the WHO to bold new initiatives which were simply unimaginable before him. I remember, for instance, his invitation to women’s rights advocates to meetings on biomedical research where the most complex issues were being discussed. He successfully championed among his skeptical colleagues the notion that women’s perspectives mattered when setting priorities in contraceptive research. I also remember the landmark conference on ethical issues in family planning, where he brought together the most accomplished researchers and ethicists and their fiercest critics. He believed in dialogue and promoted it with passion and wisdom.
He later became the Director of Reproductive Health and Population at the Ford Foundation, where his leadership in the field reached new heights. The reinvigoration of the population field with the new comprehensive framework of reproductive health and rights owes an enormous debt to Pepe’s strategic thinking and wise allocation of the substantial resources of the largest foundation working in reproductive health at that time. As a colleague in the field, I benefited extraordinarily from his collegiality, his openness, and his constant support for our common endeavors.
He was recently elected as Advisor to the Board of the Western Hemisphere Region of IPPF, a position he accepted with great enthusiasm. He had first become involved with IPPF/WHR in the March for Women’s Lives in Washington in April of 2004, where he proudly joined us on the stage, as the IPPF President Nina Puri spoke to millions of people gathered to support women’s health and rights. He also attended our symposium on the Millennium Development Goals in Rio de Janeiro that November. He had recently launched the book he co-authored, The Drama of Abortion: searching for a consensus, which quickly became a reference all over Latin America.
Since the Fall of 2005 he was battling cancer, but remained totally engaged with our concerns, offering wise advice over the phone until his last days. His absence is deeply felt, but his legacy will continue to inspire us as we strive to build a more humane world where women's rights are respected, sexual and reproductive health is promoted, and ethical standards prevail.