[Ip-health] Politico Europe - Three candidates from three continents vie to be next global health chief

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Wed Jan 25 21:21:40 PST 2017


Three candidates from three continents vie to be next global health chief

Three out of four Europeans were knocked out of the race to be director
general of the World Health Organization. A Briton remains.


1/25/17, 9:35 PM CET

Updated 1/26/17, 5:49 AM CET

GENEVA — An African, a Brit and an Asian are on the shortlist to become the
world’s next health chief.

A World Health Organization board vote on Wednesday chose Ethiopia’s Tedros
Adhanom, Britain’s David Nabarro and Pakistan’s Sania Nishtar as finalists
in the race to succeed Director General Margaret Chan when she steps down
in June after a decade leading the WHO.

Two other candidates, both of them European — Italy’s Flavia Bustreo and
France’s Philippe Douste-Blazy — were eliminated after just one round of
voting at the WHO’s annual board meeting. All the candidates were
interviewed in a closed-door, day-long session with country representatives
gathered in Geneva.

Whoever is elected by member states in May will face the daunting task of
transforming a 69-year-old agency with 7,000 employees into a nimbler and
better-funded organization that can prevent the next pandemic, tackle the
spread of superbugs and stamp out the ravages of tobacco use.

“The three finalists leave us with a very balanced field. Their challenge
now is to present a bold vision and plan for reestablishing WHO’s
leadership in global health,” said Michael Merson, director of the Duke
Global Health Institute.

Public health experts and all six candidates who initially threw their hat
in the ring have stressed the WHO needs stronger leadership and
accountability to regain trust and secure more sustainable funding from
governments. (Hungary’s Miklós Szócska was eliminated earlier this week.)

The board’s 34 members could jot three names on their ballots. According to
four sources inside the meeting, Tedros got 30 votes, Nishtar 28 and
Nabarro 18 — all clinching the simple majority required for a nomination.
France’s Douste-Blazy attracted 14 votes and Italy’s Bustreo 12.

So the last European standing is from a country leaving the European Union.

“We’re thrilled,” Dame Sally Davies, Britain’s chief medical officer, said
of Nabarro’s nomination. “This now goes to the highest levels of

In May, for the first time, the World Health Assembly representing all 194
member countries will get to elect a new chief among the finalists, also in
a secret paper ballot. In the past, the Assembly essentially rubber-stamped
the board’s pick. Now, under the U.N.’s one-country, one-vote rule, tiny
Pacific island countries will have the same ballot power as China or the
United States, making the outcome tough to predict and promising plenty of
diplomatic horse-trading ahead.

Africa’s hope

Tedros (He goes by his first name.) was the first to announce his bid — a
year ago, months before the formal process actually started. He has been a
favorite in the race amid calls for Africa to finally have a go at running
the WHO. Its eight director generals so far have come from just three
regions: Europe, the Americas and the Western Pacific, which includes China
and Japan. A former health minister for Ethiopia, Tedros holds a PhD. in
community health and a Master’s in immunology, but is not a medical doctor,
which would be a first for a WHO leader.

Groups of Ethiopians living abroad have protested his bid, alleging the
government he was a part of violated human rights and that should
disqualify him. Tedros told POLITICO last June that Ethiopia was a “nascent
democracy” with room for improvement but that he was proud to be part of
the government. He stepped down as foreign minister in November, after a
wave of popular protests prompted a major cabinet reshuffle.

The only woman among the finalists, Nishtar is a prominent civil society
leader in Pakistan who has held four portfolios including health in the
nation’s 2013 caretaker government. She takes pride in being the country’s
first trained female cardiologist. In 2015, she was Pakistan’s candidate
for U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, but the job went to Filippo Grandi
of Italy.

Nishtar has pledged to make the WHO more focused, transparent and
accountable and to take it “back to its former glory.” She also noted in an
interview that her Eastern Mediterranean region had never had its turn at
leading the agency either.

Britain’s Nabarro, a physician, is a U.N. special adviser on the 2030
agenda for sustainable development and highly regarded in Geneva. He was
named U.N. special envoy for Ebola in 2014, when the WHO came under fire
for its slow response to the crisis, and chaired the advisory panel that
paved the way to an ongoing overhaul of the agency’s work in outbreaks and

While he has acknowledged he never held formal political office, he has
touted his “inclusive and accountable style of leadership” and argued he
knows the system well enough to help carry out the WHO’s reform work. He
dismissed suggestions that being a British candidate in the midst of Brexit
might dampen support from Europeans or weaken his chances in any way.

“At the moment I’m not thinking about those sorts of issues,” Nabarro said
after the vote. “This organization needs the most competent person. I will
just continue to present myself on the basis of what I’ve done and what I
offer to do.”

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