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Question Time: Electing the next WHO Director-General

Posted on 5 November 2016

Centre for Global Health Histories co-organises event showcasing candidates

Since 1948 the WHO has been led by seven Director Generals (DGs) and one acting DG. As Dr Margaret Chan, the current DG, prepares to step down from her term, the extensive process to elect her successor is underway.

The names of six candidates 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 candidates are currently being scrutinised by WHO’s member states and its Executive Board. Three will be shortlisted by the Board for consideration at the World Health Assembly in May, when the new DG will be formally announced.

This election process is more open than ever before, and as part of the campaign trail a public event at Chatham House, London, on 3 November provided a chance to get to know the candidates and 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.

The Centre for Global Health Histories (CGHH) was delighted to play a role in co-organising this event, and honoured to have been able to participate on the day. 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.

A recording of the event, funded and produced by the Lancet, will be available shortly on the CGHH website.

  • 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.