5 questions with Dr. Yogan Pillay

Our monthly checkin with staff from around the world. Learn more about the people who work at CHAI.

Dr. Yogan Pillay, Country director of South Africa, Senior Global Director for Universal Health Coverage; Start date: June 2020

Before joining CHAI in June, Dr. Yogan Pillay served as deputy director-general for health programs in South Africa’s national department of health since 2008. Prior to that, he served the department of health in various roles, including Chief Director for Strategic Planning and Director for the district health system.

Under his leadership, South Africa’s immunization program expanded to include three new vaccines: rotavirus, pneumococcus, and human papillomavirus. He also helped introduce two popular mobile platforms to address youth and maternal health: B-Wise improves access to health information for young people and MomConnect is a weekly text message service for pregnant women and new mothers. In 2011, he and his team began expanding access to Genexpert, an affordable testing platform for tuberculosis. He has also served on the ministerial committee on National Health Insurance (South Africa’s version of universal health coverage) and led efforts to develop service benefits for various levels of care in the country.

On July 8, Dr. Pillay was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International for his work on child health. Dr. Pillay earned his PhD from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

1. Why did you decide to join CHAI?

I worked with people from CHAI for about a decade and always found the individuals and the organizations innovative and agile – these two characteristics appealed to me.

2. Like so many people at CHAI, you will be serving in a couple of different roles at the organization – the country director of South Africa, and also the Senior Global Director for Universal Health Coverage. As country director, what do you hope to bring to the South Africa program?

CHAI-SA has great programs and people and I plan to build on this. I would also like to bring my own ideas to this role. For example, in the first month of my role as country director I convened the heads of other implementing organizations and suggested that we establish a forum for us to discuss technical issues and be a platform for discussion with donors and the department of health. On July 21 the forum was launched, and I was appointed as its inaugural convener.

3. Universal Health Coverage cuts across all of the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is at the heart of CHAI’s mission. What do you plan to focus on in the near term – and the long term? 

There is clearly much work to be done to reach the SDGs in many countries and this applies to universal health coverage as well. There are three areas of work that I believe we need to focus on: governance, design, and demonstrations – which can be used to go to scale. For each of these there are components that can be the focus of our short-term work as well as for the medium term. I don’t like to speak about long term as this may mean never getting anything done!

4. What do you do when you aren’t working?

Walking, gym, lapsed golfer (sadly), avid Manchester United supporter! I also have a 13-year-old son, Vishay, who keeps me grounded and energetic.

5. What is the best piece of advice you have every received?

Don’t leave till tomorrow what you can do today!