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U of T Scarborough professor questions WHO Director-General candidates in column for PlosBlogs

The World Health Assembly is poised to elect the next Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) as China’s Dr. Margaret Chan completes her second five-year term. (U.S. Mission Photo / Eric Bridiers)

National elections aren’t the only ones that matter. The World Health Assembly is poised to elect the next Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) as China’s Dr. Margaret Chan completes her second five-year term. 

Given shortfalls of member country dues, the uncertainty of U.S. funding for global health and development, a loss of confidence in the aftermath of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the WHO’s aim to “attain the highest possible level of health,” this election is extremely important and is being conducted in a way that is more transparent than ever before.

In the past, the WHO’s Executive Board put forward a single candidate for approval by the World Health Assembly.  This year for the first time the vote is open to the WHO’s entire 194 country membership, with the vote likely taking place on May 23, and there is real competition.

Five candidates were interviewed by member states prior to an Executive Board vote in January that produced three short-listed nominees for Director-General: Dr. Sania Nishtar of Pakistan, a cardiologist and former Minister of Health, Science and Technology, Information Technology and Higher Education; Dr. David Nabarro of the United Kingdom, a public health physician and longtime UN and WHO official; and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia, a malariologist and former Minister of Health and of Foreign Affairs. The new Director-General takes office on July 1, charged with restoring the organization’s place in the larger global health landscape.

Numerous venues, from the Lancet to the New York Times, have published profiles and interviews with Drs Nabarro, Nishtar, and Tedros. The candidates have splashy websites and brochures, and have met regularly with officials from WHO member countries to make their pitch. But according to U of T Scarborough Professor of Critical Development Studies Anne-Emanuelle Birn, what’s missing from the discussion has been a probing look at the most crucial political economy issues facing the WHO and global health writ large, and how these issues affect the health of the public.

In the final post of a PlosBlogs series, Professor Birn and her two co-authors of Oxford University Press’s recently published Textbook of Global Health—Deputy Director-General of South Africa’s National Department of Health Dr. Yogan Pillay, and Dr. Timothy Holtz from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University—pose critical questions to the three candidates. Their questions challenge the candidates to address issues of health equity, the underlying social and political determinants of health, the role of private sector actors in influencing the agenda and governance of WHO, the impact of climate change, and how WHO’s leadership role can be restored in order to ensure the trust of the wider global community.

 




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