Via The Lancet, a thoughtful editorial: The next Director-General of WHO. I've added links to the mentioned candidates, and a comment:
WHO last week fired a starting pistol to launch the election for its next Director-General. The final vote does not take place until May, 2017. Procedures have been substantially revised since 2012, when Margaret Chan was elected to serve a second term. It is likely that this lengthy process will therefore be more transparent, accountable, and disputatious (and considerably less corrupt) than past elections.
The deadline for member states to nominate candidates is Sept 22. Several prominent individuals have already disclosed their intentions to stand.
Philippe Douste-Blazy served two terms as France's Minister of Health and subsequently became Foreign Minister. He has been a leader on innovative financing for health and has chaired UNITAID since 2006.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is currently Ethiopia's Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was Minister of Health from 2005–12. The African Union has endorsed him as the sole African candidate for Director-General.
Sania Nishtar, Pakistan's former Minister of Health (among several other government portfolios), has had a distinguished career as a civil society leader. She founded the influential non-governmental organisation Heartfile in 1999.
All three candidates are highly accomplished global health leaders, which bodes well for the future of WHO.
Others will no doubt be nominated. Next month's World Health Assembly will be a useful opportunity for member states to take soundings about the issues that will decide the election (geography, gender, and proven political skills will likely be as important as technical expertise). In January, 2017, the Executive Board can propose up to three names to be considered by the World Health Assembly. Some observers believe it is Africa's turn to lead WHO. That judgment may be fair, but we trust that merit will also be an important quality tested by member states.
Is it now time for Margaret Chan to turn her attention to life after Geneva? No, it is not. In her final 12 months, Dr Chan should embrace her unprecedented freedom to speak without scruple and act without fear. Now is her best moment to make WHO the supremely radical voice for health equity and social justice it should be.
When disease breaks out in poor countries, I've noticed that the countries are usually run by macho jerks, and the health minister is a woman.
The reason, I suspect, is not a redeeming flicker of enlightenment in the minds of the jerks, but the cheap political benefit gained by putting a woman into a portfolio of no importance to the jerks. She is likely brighter than all the men in the jerks' cabinet, but her influence is likely very slight. If an embarrassing outbreak occurs, she can do the interviews and visit the hospitals while the jerks get on with enriching themselves and conning more donations out of the rich countries.
Margaret Chan appears to have been trapped into that kind of typecasting. She was brilliant in 1997 Hong Kong, when its terrified government didn't know what to do about the H5N1 that was suddenly killing people as well as birds. With a decisiveness Mao Zedong would have admired, she ordered the slaughter of every chicken, duck and goose in Hong Kong and the closing of the poultry trade with the mainland. She may well have saved us all from a really ugly end to the 20th century.
With the backing of China, her ascent to Director-General was assured. She had certainly read the politics of late-1990s China very well, and Beijing was chastened a few years later by the way it bobbled the SARS outbreak. A Chinese DG looked like a good way for Beijing to recover.
But as Director-General Dr. Chan has been consoling, reassuring, and inadequate. She understood that travel advisories are WHO's nuclear bombs, not to be detonated without grim reason. (We Canadians had been furious when WHO declared Toronto a no-go zone during the SARS outbreak.) So she dithered about H1N1, eventually declaring it a pandemic but failing to explain that "pandemic" doesn't automatically mean zombies in the streets.
Cheated of its zombies, the global public sneered at WHO as a bunch of sissies. (The health agencies that put their people into the battle against H1N1 saw them come back with thousand-yard stares, like combat troops with PTSD.)
So Chan and WHO were slow off the mark when Ebola erupted in West Africa. NGOs like MSF had to send people like Dr. Joanne Liu to shake the authorities warmly by the throat to warn them about the typhoon of shit that was about to descend on them. Don't get me going about WHO's limp response to Saudi Arabia and MERS.
As a lame-duck DG, Dr. Chan could indeed let rip as The Lancet would like her to, but the member states she reamed out would then look for someone more biddable to replace her, and thereby frustrate any hope for "health equity and social justice."
Speaking as an idle bystander, I would not look for a politically attractive candidate. If realpolitik is the way serious nations do business, then gesundheitspolitik should be the way they keep their people healthy.
The World Health Organization must deal largely with poor countries run by macho jerks whose concern with health extends only to that of their own supporters and their dynastic heirs. The ideal WHO Director-General for these guys would come equipped with airborne divisions, cruise missiles, and a billion-dollar golden handshake to ease the jerks' transition into a comfortable overseas retirement.
Lacking that, the next DG should be able to exert enough soft power to bring a couple of million people into any capital's streets just by showing up. A glimpse of that turnout would make the biggest macho jerk see reason.
Given the political realities of the early 21st century, I can think of just one candidate as next Director-General of WHO: not a woman, not a health expert, but someone who can arrive anywhere on the planet and expect instant attention and respect: the 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama.