Meet Matthew Coghlan: Regional Director, The Union Asia Pacific Office, Singapore

Meet Matthew Coghlan: Regional Director, The Union Asia Pacific Office, Singapore

The Union is extraordinarily fortunate to welcome four respected, talented and innovative public health professionals to our leadership team. Bringing diverse and accomplished backgrounds to their new positions, they have joined us as Regional or Country Directors in the past year. Their commitment and skills have already begun enhancing our efforts to deliver public health solutions around the world. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile each of these new Union leaders here. This is the first instalment in the series.

As an international lawyer and a development practitioner in Australia and East Asia for the last 15 years, Matthew Coghlan comes to The Union with a breadth of experience and expertise that broadens the definition of global public health leadership for the 21st century.

With this diverse and non-traditional background, he is an ideal fit for the The Union Asia Pacific Office, whose mandate, Mr Coghlan says, “is to develop competencies and capacity throughout the region” and provide health solutions that reach those most in need.

Specifically, Mr Coghlan wants to initiate programmes in tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases, to match the Asia Pacific office’s current strength in providing technical assistance on tobacco control. His approach will be proactive, innovative and driven by a career of advocacy in the public policy arena.

In particular, he believes an organisation dedicated to lung health cannot ignore the ever-present threat caused by air pollution. “Respiratory illness and air pollution are linked, and there are many polluted cities in the region,” he says. “Singapore regularly has a haze over it. Indonesia is burning off its palm oil plantations, and the smog from it covers the region.”

He is concerned with the important connections between non-communicable and communicable diseases. Stressing the now-clearly established link between TB and diabetes, he notes that attention must be paid to how and what people eat: “As people in the region consume more processed food, there will be a rise in cases of malnutrition and diabetes. If we are concerned about TB, we have to be concerned about this too.”

Mr Coghlan is aware that The Union cannot take on such broad and ambitious policy agendas alone. Therefore, he would like to address them through a public health coalition by creating a regional equivalent of the global NCD Alliance. It would be an inclusive, broad group of NGOs in the region that share similar objectives.

Mr Coghlan comes from a family with long involvement in the healthcare industry in Australia, but his initial chosen career was law and government. From his practice of development in East Asia for 10 years, he has attained an advanced understanding of its political systems, cultures and societies.

Moreover, having become deeply involved in human rights issues during his time in the region, he has a strong commitment to the right of everyone to health care and medicines.  His earlier work with Oxfam America centered on regional advocacy for economic justice, which included access to medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS in Thailand.

Mr Coghlan is no stranger to Singapore. Not only is it the birthplace of his spouse and children, but also he  previously ran a legal NGO there that trained criminal lawyers and justice officials on access to justice and rule of law in the region. Heading up The Union Asia Pacific Office, he says, “feels like coming home.”