Two men and a woman running vie for WHO chief

By Nabeela Khan Inayti

Published on March 8, 2017

World Health Organisation is in the final phase of selecting its next Director General and May 2017 will have a clear leader who will take WHO office from July 2017.

The UK’s Dr David Nabarro, a sustainable development adviser to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, former Ethiopian foreign minister as well as health minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and former Pakistan’s health minister Dr Sania Nishtar are in the final race to replace incumbent Dr Margaret Chan whose second term of office ends June 30.

World Health Organisation is a group that's responsible for worldwide public health policies. And the world loses billions of dollars due to negligence over health issues, overall impacting business conglomerates, thereby pushing us again to scroll through the glossiest business pages of newspapers and not health. In fact The World Bank estimated Zika will cost the world about $3.5 billion in 2016 because when people get sick they miss work, are less productive, children are not sent schools, people avoid crowded places and tourism declines.

So while voting for final round, what is important for WHO is to know and question, can current nominee bring back the same trust in people that WHO lost in the aftermath of the 2009-10 H1N1 flu pandemic and 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

All three contenders have formidable reputation. 

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is a member of Ethiopia’s most powerful political party and is backed by a number of African governments. Dr David Nabarro is has spent over 40 years in international public health as a medical doctor, educator, international public servant and diplomat. He has worked on the frontline, in over 50 countries including India, Nepal and Bangladesh. He has also spent 15 years getting to grips with the intricacies of the UN and global health systems, working on Ebola, bird flu, cholera and nutrition. And Dr Sania Nishtar is founder and president of Heartfile, a health think-tank, and co-chair of the WHO’s commission on ending childhood obesity. She is a former health minister of Pakistan.

We looked at few interviews and campaign sessions to know what current nominees think about WHO current position and how much they want to bring back the same trust.

Although, their campaigns talk about their focus on pertinent issues like climate change, access to medicines, anti-microbial resistance, universal health coverage and emergency responses. But their campaigns and interviews also reflect that their focus equally lies in re-shaping and strengthening the role of WHO.

In view of this, Dr. Sania Nishtar says that the next test for WHO will be another emergency and she is aware of this. She also pointed to reclaiming WHO primacy, focus WHO on its core mandate, and usher in a new paradigm.

Dr. Nabarro believes in running drills to be able to prepare for emergency situations. Whereas, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also acknowledged that WHO is “overstretched and underfunded".

Dr. Tedros strongly believes that he envisions a world in which everyone can lead healthy and productive lives, regardless of who they are or where they live. The next year will unfold what reforms the winner brings in and wipes away the not so trusted image of WHO.

May 2017 is the time for 194 member states to elect the new successor and it is tough competition between Dr. Tedros and Dr. Nishtar as they won the top three candidature seats. Tedros took the lead with 30 votes; Nishtar was close behind with a total of 28. Nabarro received 18 votes from the 34-member board.

Although, Dr. Nabarro has support from who’s who. British Foreign secretary in a twitter feed says "I want to explain why I am supporting Dr. Nabarro" he further says "David Nabarro is a medical professional who has direct experience of leading the fight against Ebola in West Africa. But he is also a manager who has enormous experience of World Health Organisation and how it works". 

But online surveys and polls say that Dr. Tedros is an impressive candidate for WHO followed by Dr. Sania Nishtar and Dr. Nabarro according to Financial Times health survey where 52% voted for Tedros, 43% for Sania and only 5% for Nabarro.



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