For the first time in its two-decade history, the International Society of Pharmacovigilance (ISoP) membership has elected a woman as president. The historic election – announced in Bogotá, Colombia in October 2019 – also ushered in the organisation’s first majority-female executive committee and advisory board.
Dr Mira Harrison-Woolrych, who has now taken over the reins from former president Sten Olsson, describes the election result as both significant and overdue.
“At least 70% of those working in pharmacovigilance worldwide are women and it seems appropriate and fair that our new advisory board reflects this,” Harrison-Woolrych said.
“That said, it is not necessary to be female to believe in equality across all genders – and indeed gender is not a binary issue for many people – and I’m confident that all members of ISoP’s new executive committee and advisory board believe in equal opportunities and fairer representation in our profession.”
Harrison-Woolrych is a medical doctor, academic, and writer, with a clinical background in obstetrics and gynaecology and a long history in medicines regulation, pharmacovigilance, pharmacoepidemiology, and risk communication. Originally educated in the UK, she now lives and works in New Zealand.
As president of ISoP, Harrison-Woolrych says her main motivation is providing democratic, honest, and motivational leadership to all of ISoP’s 1,000-plus members in over 100 countries, so they may work together towards improving patient safety.
“While this may sound like a standard mission statement, I really do believe that patients should remain the central focus of all our work in pharmacovigilance,” she said. “As a clinical doctor, this is the main reason I joined ISoP over 15 years ago, and it remains a key reason why I’m honoured to lead our professional society for the next three years.”
In pursuit of this mission, Harrison-Woolrych is joined by ISoP’s new vice president, Dr Rebecca Chandler, medical Doctor at UMC.
Like Harrison-Woolrych, Chandler is a physician with a long and deep commitment to patient-centred care. Chandler studied medicine in her native United States, practising in internal medicine and infectious diseases. Upon moving to Sweden, she worked at the Swedish medicines regulator before joining UMC, where she has been actively involved in signal detection and research, written extensively on medicines- and vaccine-safety issues, trained other pharmacovigilance professionals, and represented UMC on the world stage.
“From its origins as a European society, ISoP has grown to become a truly global organisation, thanks in large part to the hard work and vision of those that have come before me on the committee, including the previous president and my former colleague, Sten Olsson,” Chandler said.
“It’s impressive to see how we today’s ISoP membership reflects the community served by the UMC, so I’m excited to be able to contribute to the global pharmacovigilance community through both UMC and ISoP,” she a.
While the change in gender balance in ISoP leadership is notable, Harrison-Woolrych is quick to point out that she and her colleagues are keenly aware that gender is by no means the only potential issue regarding inequality in pharmacovigilance.
“ISoP members across the world are familiar with many different inequities – for example due to race, religion, prejudice, poverty – but, as I noted in my first presidential address, we are all pharmacovigilantes,” said Harrison-Woolrych.
“Our common professional interests and concerns for patient safety are much stronger than any differences between us and this will remain a priority for ISoP in the coming years. We will continue to build our regional chapters and Special Interest Groups, continue to organise training around the world and welcome anyone with our common aims and values to our society.”