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‘Question Time: Electing the Next Director-General of the World Health Organization’ - Report

Posted on 4 November 2016

York’s Centre for Global Health Histories takes part in an event to hear from the six candidates vying to become the next WHO Director-General.

Since 1948 the WHO has been led by seven Director Generals (DG) and one acting Director-General. As Dr Margaret Chan, the present incumbent, prepares to step down from her term, the extensive process to elect a new director-general has begun anew. Names of candidates for the next Director-General nominated by Member States were announced on 23 September 2016; Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Ethiopia), Dr Flavia Bustreo (Italy), Professor Philippe Douste-Blazy (France), Dr David Nabarro (United Kingdom), Dr Sania Nishtar (Pakistan and Dr Miklós Szócska (Hungary). The six candidates are currently being scrutinised by WHO’s member states and its Executive Board. From January 2017 the process will further intensify as the Executive Board creates a shortlist of a maximum of five candidates. Board members will then interview these candidates and recommend three of them to go forward for consideration at the World Health Assembly in May 2017, when the new DG will be formally announced.

This time the election process is also more open than ever before, and as part of the campaign trail a public event at Chatham House, London on 3rd November 2016 provided a chance to get to know the candidates, their background and policies, better. ‘Question Time: Electing the Next Director-General of the World Health Organization’ provided an opportunity for non-governmental stakeholders, medical professionals, academics, members of the public, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, to hear from the candidates and put questions to them.

WHO DG Candidates

The candidates are introduced by Professor David Heymann, Head and Senior Fellow, Centre on Global Health Security , Chatham House Royal Institute of International Affairs

The event was moderated by Dr Richard Horton (Editor-in-Chief, The Lancet), and co-chaired by Professor David Heymann, (Head and Senior Fellow, Centre on Global Health Security, Chatham House) and Suerie Moon (Director of Research, Global Health Centre, Graduate Institute of Geneva). All candidates (except for Dr Ghebreyesus who was called away urgently) were given the chance to pitch their vision of WHO and then received quick-fire questions from Dr Horton. An audience of over 100 in the room, and hundreds more online, then got the chance to probe the candidates on aspects such as rebuilding the credibility and authority of WHO, specific ways to enhance Universal Health Coverage, and learning the lessons of the recent past. The event proved to be exceptionally lively, and provided unprecedented insights into the candidates and their competing visions.

The University of York’s Centre for Global Health Histories, which is also the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories, (housed in the Department of History) is delighted to have played a role in helping to co-organise this event and is honoured to have been able to participate on the day. A recording of the event, funded and produced by the Lancet, will be available shortly; we will post the link on this website and via CGHH’s social media channels.


  • The event was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.
  • A companion event for shortlisted candidates will take place in early 2017, hosted by Global Health Centre of the Graduate Institute, Geneva.
  • The Director-General is WHO’s chief technical and administrative officer and oversees WHO’s international health work. Find out more about the election process at: