At this year’s Autumn Symposium in Cologne, the Walter Siegenthaler Society for Advances in Internal Medicine presented its 2022 Walter Siegenthaler Gold Medal to Thomas Zeltner, University Councillor at MedUni Vienna, for his extraordinary, lasting impact on the development of healthcare in Switzerland and throughout the world.
Thomas Zeltner was director of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) from 1991 to 2009. In this role, he used innovative approaches to move the Swiss healthcare system into the future. He succeeded in changing drug policy from one of pure repression to one of medically oriented care for addicts.
As a key figure in Swiss healthcare policy, Zeltner played a major part in the overarching issue of health promotion and aligned the Swiss healthcare system with the values and needs of its users. In his role as Director of the FOPH, Zeltner also represented Switzerland on many international committees, including as a member and Vice-President of the Executive Council of WHO from 1999 to 2002. Zeltner also served as a WHO special ambassador on issues relating to its reorganisation and funding from 2012-14.
Thomas Zeltner was born in 1947 in Bern (Switzerland), where he studied medicine and law. He gained a PhD and a master’s degree in law from the University of Bern and then trained as a specialist in human pathology and eventually forensic medicine. He became Professor of Public Healthcare in 1991 and Professor of Public Health at the University of Bern in 1992 and Visiting Scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health (Boston) from 1992 onwards.
He is Vice-Chairman of the University Council of the Medical University of Vienna , Chairman of the Swiss Research Institute for Public Health and Addiction (Zurich) and of the Advisory Board of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Zeltner has been a Fellow of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative since 2010. In 2014, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in law from the University of Neuchâtel. He advises international organisations, NGOs, and national governments on health policy issues and healthcare reforms, always using innovative and collaborative approaches. For example, he supports the Swiss Federal Department of Home Affairs in the implementation of the Federal Council’s "Health 2020" strategy and in the procurement of vaccine doses for immunisation against Covid-19. He is president of the Swiss Blood Donation and Stem Cell Center of the Swiss Red Cross as well as of KPT, a leading Swiss health insurance company. He is president of the Science-et-Cité Foundation, a member of the board of the Swiss Academies of Sciences, and a teacher at the Graduate Institute (Geneva). He is president of the UNESCO commission of Switzerland. He is founder and chairman of the new WHO Foundation (https://who.foundation/en), which is so important for the global health development.