Who will be the next leader of the WHO?

In May 2017, a new Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) will be elected. In January, the executive board of WHO will shortlist a maximum of three candidates from the current field of six declared candidates:

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Ethiopia), Minister of foreign affairs, Ethiopia
  • Flavia Bustreo (Italy), Assistant director-general, family, women’s and children’s health, WHO
  • Philippe Douste-Blazy (France), UN Undersecretary general and special adviser to the secretary general
  • David Nabarro (UK), Special adviser to the UN secretary general on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
  • Sania Nishtar (Pakistan), Founder and president, Heartfile and former Federal Minister instrumental in establishingPakistan’s Ministry of Health
  • Miklós Szócska (Hungary), Founder and director of the Health Services Management Training Centre, Semmelweis University, Budapest

Three of these six candidates (Tedros, Flavia and David) are alumni of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

On Thursday 3 November, a Question Time style event was held at Chatham House in London with five of the candidates; Dr Tedros, who was unable to attend due to events in Ethiopia, sent warm greetings.

The event, jointly held by Chatham House and the Graduate Institute, Geneva, was moderated by Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet, and co-chaired by David Heymann, Head of the Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House and Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at our School, and Suerie Moon, Director of Research at the Graduate Institute of Geneva.

In 1993, Flavia Bustreo was one of the first students to enrol on the School’s new MSc in Communicable Disease Epidemiology, graduating in 1994. According to her tutors, she was engaging and collegiate, demonstrating a keen interest in epidemiology and rigorous methods of research, as well as gender issues in public health. Alison Grant, Professor of International Health at the School and a contemporary on the course, said: “Flavia has always been committed to improving health, particularly for the most disadvantaged people in society, and was also a great colleague.”who-2 L-R – Richard Horton, Flavia Bustreo, David Nabarro. Photo courtesy of Chatham House and the Graduate Institute, Geneva.

At the Chatham House event, Flavia Bustreo said: “I am delighted to be back in London where I studied. WHO needs a strong leadership role in the response to emergencies; it also needs to lead on the health impacts of climate change, and to address the epidemiological and demographic transitions we are undergoing.

“I would extend universal health care not only to reach everyone – immunisation still misses 20% of children – but also expand the scope of services to screening, diagnosis and primary care. Reform of WHO means sustainable financing. We are now too reliant on voluntary contributions from member states which often have conditions attached, so we must engage the private sector and NGOs through innovative financing.”

Dr David Nabarro CBE is Special Advisor on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Chairman of the Advisory Group on Reform of WHO’s Work in Outbreaks and Emergencies with Health and Humanitarian Consequences. David completed an MSc in Community Health in Developing Countries at LSHTM in 1979, and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship in 1999. His professional experience includes clinical practice, organising the UN Response to Ebola in 2014 and leading the UN’s response to the cholera epidemic in Haiti.

In his pitch at Chatham House, David said: “The international system that provides global governance was invented 70 years ago, but must be reinvented now. Health belongs to all sections of society, not just governments. Last year the SDGs repositioned health as part of a broad multilateral, multi-sector sustainable development framework. WHO must be ready to find its place in the new international system, recognising a future built around relationships, competence and quality – and most importantly evidence-based!”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the former Minister of Health. Tedros completed a Masters in Immunology of Infectious Diseases at the School, graduating in 1992. He was awarded an Honorary Fellowship the School’s most prestigious honour, in 2012.


Dr Tedros with Professor Brian Greenwood at the School’s Diploma Day in 2012

In an article published in The BMJ on 28 October 2016, entitled How to choose the world’s top health diplomat, Ilona Kickbusch, Ngaire Woods, Peter Piot and Kamran Abbasi analysed the qualities required for the next director general.

A detailed Q&A with each candidate is published in a special report in The Lancet by Richard Horton and Udani Samarasekera, entitled WHO’s Director-General candidates: visions and priorities.

Three of the six candidates will be shortlisted by the WHO’s Executive Board of Directors in January, and the new Director-General will be elected by all 194 UN member states at the World Health Assembly in May, to take office in July 2017. Further information on the election process is on the WHO website.

Top picture: L-R – Richard Horton, Flavia Bustreo, Philippe Douste-Blazy, David Nabarro, Sania Nishtar, Miklós Szócska and Suerie Moon. Photo courtesy of Chatham House and the Graduate Institute, Geneva.

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