The World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the United Nations that works towards a healthier world, is about to elect its next Director General. In May 2017, WHO’s annual World Health Assembly will convene in Geneva to select the agency’s ninth leader.
The chosen successor to the incumbent Director General, Margaret Chan of China, will take their place as a paramount figure in global health policy and play an integral role in the future of public health. The position requires great international and political savvy, fortitude in collaboration, and strong leadership with a vision that considers both current and future global health threats.
The election process may appear formal or even distant to some, but it is ultimately citizens who benefit when the right candidate is elected. The Director General holds the power to influence transformational long-term gains in global public health while maintaining a balanced view of complex global health challenges. The current nominees are Tedros Adhanom of Ethiopia, David Nabarro of United Kingdom, Sania Nishtar of Pakistan, and Zhu Chen of China.
The importance of this election cannot be overlooked; for many years, the world has looked to the WHO for insightful advice regarding topics such as infectious diseases, safety of medicines and food, environmental hazards, and more. WHO’s efforts in mitigating HIV/AIDS transmission through risk behavior reduction enhancement policies since 2001 have also been noteworthy; under their leadership much has been done to reduce HIV in places like Thailand and sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2009 WHO carried out a pandemic flu plan during the H1N1 outbreak; the successful execution of that plan led to one of the most historic improvements in global public health response ever witnessed. We can only hope that whoever takes office after May 2017 is fit to live up to such an esteemed legacy.
On May 22nd 2017, delegates from 194 countries around the world will gather in Geneva to select the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO). The eighth person in history to lead the global health agency, the successful candidate will oversee the organization’s critical role in pushing public health initiatives on a global level.
Four candidates have been put forward for consideration in the vote; scientists David Nabarro of Britain and Sania Nishtar of Pakistan, former Health Minister of Ethiopia Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Dr. Philippe Douste-Blazy, a former health minister of France. Each presents their own unique skillset which could help shape and guide the organization’s agenda, be it public health systems assessment, improving international medical preparedness or delegating resources to appropriate global needs.
The opportunity to lead the WHO comes at an interesting time as international healthcare challenges continue to evolve. New diseases and outbreaks are constantly arising unpredictably and technology is transforming our approach to medicine. Our current understanding of global health may become inadequate for dealing with emerging trends, putting more pressure on whoever steps into this role. Additionally, from HIV/AIDS and malaria to bubonic plague and diabetes, WHO sits at the better frontier for epidemic control and the recruitment of a new leader is vital for the world’s overall well being.
The incoming Director General will play an influential role in directing strategies that assist developing countries with access to life saving vaccines and treatments. They will also have a platform to inform decisions that can have collective public health benefits. With an effective leader guiding the organization we can move toward a healthier global future by implementing effective policies and procedures that equalize health access across populations regardless of location or wealth.
It remains to be seen who will be chosen as WHO Director General this May but what’s sure is that no single individual should take all credit or blame for any successes or failures of this important organisation; instead it should be remembered that all decisions are driven by the collective will of 194 national delegates who attend World Health Assemblies regularly.