Leadership for Global Health Security: Why the WHO Election Matters

{Photo credit: Lindsay Kallman}Speaker panel from left to right: Ashish Jha, Catharine Taylor, Jenifer Healy (moderator), Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, David BarashPhoto credit: Lindsay Kallman

The World Health Organization (WHO) is slated to elect a new Director-General in 2017. While not the most widely talked about election right now, the appointment of a new Director-General has real implications for global health.

During a high-level event on December 2, 2016, entitled "Why the WHO election matters: Its impact, implications and opportunities," Catharine Taylor, vice president of Health Programs Group at Management Sciences for Health, joined Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, assistant secretary of global affairs at the US Department of Health and Human Services, David Barash, executive director of global health at the GE Foundation, and Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, to discuss priorities for WHO’s next leader.

[Catharine Taylor]{Photo credit: JoAnn Paradis}Catharine TaylorPhoto credit: JoAnn ParadisHopes for New WHO leadership

With 193 member states, there are many competing priorities for the WHO. Speakers agreed that WHO’s new Director-General must focus on coordination and priority setting—the bigger picture and not just the demands of individual member states. The importance of leadership was a key focus of this discussion. “Leadership is doing what is right and making it popular,” Jha summarized in his keynote address.

Taylor described the need for strong WHO leadership at the country level: for policy guidance and coordinating actors from the private and public sectors to prepare for and address epidemics. “We need to keep the Global Health Security Agenda front and center,” said Taylor. A major priority of the WHO must be to help countries meet their resilience needs, she explained. The new Director-General must be an advocate for domestic resource mobilization, and push for health and preparedness to be high on national agendas.

The issues we face today are complex and require strong leaders. The need for transparency and an open process for priority setting are critical for strengthening WHO’s impact. Ultimately, if we want to keep populations healthy while preventing and withstanding shocks such as outbreaks, conflict, or climate change, the new Director-General will be faced with a unique task: to reinforce a holistic global response that features cooperation among various stakeholders, with clear roles and responsibilities outlined for all.

2017 WHO Election & Candidates

The process for nominating and electing the Director-General of the WHO takes place over a ten month period. Below outlines the major steps:

  • September 23, 2016 - Names of candidates for the next Director-General nominated by Member States were announced.
  • October 2016 – Member States and candidates were given the opportunity to interact in a password-protected web forum hosted on the WHO website.
  • November 1–2, 2016 – A live forum was held, at which candidates presented their vision to WHO Member States and was also able to answer questions on their candidacy.
  • January 2017 – WHO’s Executive Board will draw up a short list of 5 candidates. Executive Board members will then interview these candidates and nominate 3 of them to go forward to the World Health Assembly in May 2017.
  • At the Seventieth World Health Assembly, Member States will vote in a new Director-General, who will take office on July 1, 2017.

Below are the six candidates for the position.

  • Sania Nishtar, Pakistan’s former health minister and founder of Heartfile
  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia’s foreign affairs minister and former health minister
  • Philippe Douste-Blazy, a former health and foreign minister of France
  • Flavia Bustreo of Italy, the WHO’s assistant DG for family, women’s, and children’s health
  • David Nabarro of Britain, a UN veteran who is currently special adviser to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on sustainable development
  • Miklós Szócska, a former health minister of Hungary