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The race has begun to select the new WHO Director General By Mohga Kamal-Yanni

The WHO has announced that the election process for the new Director General (DG) is now open. The election comes at a critical time in the organisation’s history. WHO was criticised by many for failing to respond to Ebola sufficiently quickly, while the fact that Member States had de-prioritised WHO’s emergency work and cut WHO funding was not widely acknowledged.

WHO has been facing serious financial difficulties for more than 6 years. The crisis prompted Margaret Chan to launch a reform process in 2010.  Implied in the reform plan was a correction of the imbalance in the WHO budget whereby ear-marked project funds outweighed flexible core funding in a ratio of 80/20. Six years later and the financial imbalance has not improved. It is also not clear what different member states require from the reform. WHO is in danger of becoming a ‘pay-as-you-go’ service organisation, far from its constitutional mandate.

The results of underfunding its core budget are not only limited to decreased WHO ability to perform its functions, but it also threatens its independence. Countries rely on WHO’ guidance on the assumption that advice is independent from commercial and political interests and is based on science and evidence.

Previous elections lacked transparency and failed to allow public scrutiny of the process. The global health community did not know the “manifestos” of the candidates or how they would prioritise and deal with global health problems.

The prestigious medical journal The Lancet has attempted to fill the manifesto gap by inviting candidates to share their visions. The journal also did its own ranking of the candidates according to the key competences needed for the job.

In the new recruitment processes, the WHO has announced some changes aimed at enhancing transparency. These include a forum for Member States to interact with the candidates, and allowing the WHA to choose from three candidates – instead of simply approving one.

The new DG will have to face huge challenges in terms of the impact of years of financial stringency on core functions and on moral and mandate as well the difficulties facing the role of the WHO in the complex global health field. Given the critical importance of the DG role and the challenges he/she will face, we recommend that mechanisms be put in place to enable public scrutiny of the candidate’s vision for the WHO. In order to enable this public engagement we propose:

  1. Each candidate publicly presents his/her manifesto including:
  • Their vision for what WHO would look like at the end of his/her term
  • Their key priority reform issues
  • How they will secure WHO’s independence while enhancing its financing
  • How to prioritise work areas across the complexity of global health issues and the various requirements of member states
  • Their aspiring legacy
  1. Open public debates with stakeholders to discuss the candidates’ manifestos. This can be done as a webcast to allow participants from all countries with a moderator to organise the debate

As countries begin to nominate their candidates, the global health community is entitled to know where candidates stand on key health questions as well as on the fundamental challenges and issues facing the WHO.



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Global Health Check was created by Anna Marriott and is currently edited by Mohga Kamal-Yanni