[Ip-health] The Lancet: Six candidates compete in WHO Director-General election

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri Sep 30 05:41:25 PDT 2016


Six candidates compete in WHO Director-General election

John Zarocostas
Published: 01 October 2016
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31767-6

Experts are calling for a strong leader to take the helm of WHO as the
campaign for a new global health chief formally starts; six candidates are
running. John Zarocostas reports from Geneva.

The race to elect the next Director-General of WHO kicked off in earnest on
Sept 23 with the circulation of the final candidate list of six health
experts—including four from Europe, one from Africa, and one from
Asia—seeking to win the top post in what is billed as the most transparent,
and democratic, race in the history of the agency.

How and what criteria the 194 WHO member countries use to evaluate the
leadership qualities of the nominees—political, managerial, and
technical—will be decisive, say some WHO experts.

But some top envoys from countries tracking the contest insist traditional
UN horse-trading over posts, aid, and regional and global political
rivalries will also count behind the scenes, far from the public limelight.
The same sources said look out for “shifting alliances” and diplomatic
efforts at the highest political levels “to poach potential votes” as the
contest intensifies.

In a break with past elections, the new format will put to the test the
capabilities of the nominees before they even get to the interview phase.
In October, candidates will be given the opportunity to interact with
member states in a private web forum. In November, over 3 days, the
candidates will outline their respective visions to the WHO membership and
be pressed on their platforms in a forum that will also be webcast. In
January, 2017, WHO's 34-member country Executive Board will draw up a list
of five candidates and interview them. It will then decide on the names of
three nominees to send forward to the World Health Assembly (WHA) in May,
2017. The WHA will vote for a new Director-General by secret ballot.

The nominations are: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia's Minister of
Foreign Affairs and a former Minister of Health; Philippe Douste-Blazy, a
former French Foreign Minister and Minister of Health; Sania Nishtar, a
former Minister of Health in Pakistan; David Nabarro, the UN Special Envoy
for Ebola in 2014–15 and a former senior WHO official, supported by the UK;
Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family, Women's, and
Children's Health, nominated by Italy; and Miklós Szócska a former Minister
of Health of Hungary.

The recent spate of global outbreaks, including Ebola virus and yellow
fever, and the health challenges posed by climate change, ageing
populations, the growing non-communicable diseases epidemic, and the
shortage of new drugs to fight both infectious and chronic diseases, are
some of the policy issues of concern for health diplomats who will be
taking part in the election process. The message heard in the corridors of
power in Geneva, as one western Ambassador put it, was “we need someone who
is a strong leader”.

However, it remains to be seen how the final poll will play out, and
whether member countries opt for the strongest leader or not. David
Heymann, Head and Senior Fellow, Centre on Global Health Security, Chatham
House, told The Lancet: “While I was at WHO there were two types of
Director-General—those who were what some call political leaders who are
visionary and determined, place their vision in front of member states, and
bring them to consensus on that vision by justifying it with evidence; and
there were others who functioned more as consensus leaders, who awaited a
consensus vision from member states to lead them to their vision and

“It is my belief that, at this point in time, WHO needs the first type of
Director-General—a visionary and determined political leader who gathers
information and evidence from many sources and then develops a vision to
present to member states, rather than expecting that vision to come first
from a consensus by member states”, he said.

Similarly, a senior WHO official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity,
told The Lancet, “We want someone with a strong vision. The issues are
moving fast in public health…WHO must be in the front line.”

One health expert, and WHO consultant, also speaking on condition of
non-attribution, told The Lancet, the next Director-General, “needs to lead
from the front” if the agency is to remain globally relevant, but lamented
that too many WHO chiefs, including the incumbent Margaret Chan, have too
often led from the back. Moreover, another senior WHO official, who also
asked not to be named, toldThe Lancet: “We need a really strong
communicator and public health advocate.”

Meanwhile, health-access advocacy groups insist that the new
Director-General keeps corporate interests at arms length to avoid any
skewing of the global health agenda. James Love, director of non-profit
Knowledge Ecology International, which works on knowledge management,
including innovation and access to knowledge goods, said: “WHO Member
States should pick the candidate who can maintain independence from
influence from corporate interests and manage the relationship with the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with dignity and wisdom.”

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