When one receives an email message from Marcia Angue, D.O.’13, that includes this line near the bottom, “I am so sorry, I forgot to mention that I opened an orphanage in Libreville in 2018 with my best friend,” one is not surprised.
The message was a follow-up to a Zoom conversation about Angue’s remarkable career since she graduated from Des Moines University. It began with a five-year general surgery residency in Gabon, Africa, where she was born. She was about to start a surgical fellowship in Morocco or Cuba — programs in both nations had offered her roles — when the COVID-19 pandemic quashed that option.
“At the university hospital where I did my residency, we do a lot of research, and I had started doing statistics for the surgery department,” she says. “And those statistics got transferred to the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. When the ministry was looking for a statistician to track COVID, they called me.”
That diverted her surgical career to a new calling, public health leadership, during the greatest worldwide public health crisis in her lifetime. Informed by previous outbreaks of Ebola and cholera, Gabon swiftly converted its hospitals to tackle COVID-19 head-on. Its COVID-19 response committee established an alert system, epidemiological monitoring of cases and a PCR laboratory network that covered the country. It mobilized its health care system to treat patients in public and military hospitals and outpatient treatment centers.
Wearing Three Heavy Hats
Less than a month after the nation’s first case on March 12, 2020, Angue began collecting national statistics on the spread of the disease. Three months later, she was appointed director of all COVID-19 ambulatory care to deliver treatment and information nationwide. Two months after that, she was appointed medical director of the 200-bed COVID-19 hospital set up in a stadium. In four months, she went from having a team of five people to managing 160 physicians, 40 nurses and approximately 20 technical staff.
“For two years, I literally had three offices — one with the COVID response team, another in the hospital and one in the ministry. I was going from one place to the next and trying to juggle all those roles,” she says.
Faith and caffeine kept her going.
“I always joke that my power banks are coffee and the Holy Spirit,” she says.
The World Health Organization projected that Gabon, with a population of 2.3 million people, would have 10,000 deaths in the first three months of the pandemic. But from January 2020 to June 2023, 1,462 COVID-19 deaths were reported to the WHO, with 22,384,226 vaccine doses administered.
“Preparedness and communication were key,” Angue says. “We distributed information and videos in 59 vernacular languages and used social media. All testing, hospitalizations and vaccines were free. We had a tollfree number people could use to talk with doctors, psychologists, social workers or nurses, and we had a lot of support from other countries sharing their knowledge and even equipment.”
Angue became a public face in the fight against COVID-19, appearing on television and providing public service announcements. The African daily newspaper Echos Santé named her one of 10 Gabonese women who most influenced the health care sector in 2021. “Women in the health care sector have left their mark and made their presence felt despite the COVID-19 pandemic,” the newspaper stated. “[They] have not been discouraged and have given their best for the advancement and promotion of health in Gabon.”
Indeed, Angue emerged from the worst of the pandemic anything but discouraged.
New Opportunities to Enhance Health
As a technical medical advisor to the minister of health and social affairs, Angue continues to monitor COVID-19 cases and is a leader in coordinating Gabon Equality, a nationwide, multi-year program to promote women’s rights, health and policies against gender-based violence. She hosts a radio show dedicated to health topics, “YÊMÏ,” that broadcasts on Aküm Radio 98.3 FM. She’s involved in developing nine new health facilities, renovating 17 more and advancing Gabon’s new community health program.
She also is a member of Gabon’s world-renowned vocal group, Le Chant sur la Lowé, which recently performed in Turkey. And she serves as secretary-general of that orphanage she helped establish, Ami Fidèle, in Libreville, Gabon’s capital, for children up to 10 years old.
Angue embraces all she does to serve her country and enhance health beyond one patient at a time.
“I can make projections about where I want Gabon to be in five years and then 10 years and work on programs to get us there. I never knew public health administration was so exhilarating, but I really enjoy it. You are never bored.”
— Marcia Angue, D.O.’13