GENEVA: A Pakistani specialised in non-communicable diseases, a British physician and an Ethiopian former health minister are three finalists competing for the top job at the World Health Organisation in an election on Tuesday, aspiring to land a key UN post that allows great power to set worldwide medical priorities and great responsibility as the world’s go-to person when emergencies like Ebola, Zika and SARS strike.
It is the first time that WHO’s governing body consisting of 194 member states will choose from three candidates. Previously, a candidate was pre-selected by the executive board. The selection will be a closed-door vote at the 10-day World Health Assembly, which will also lay out strategies on issues like the fight against polio, preparedness for pandemic flu, and antimicrobial resistance.
Many are looking for further reform at WHO after the decade-long tenure of Dr Margaret Chan, a politically savvy native of Hong Kong whose tenure nonetheless has been blighted by a flawed response to the Ebola outbreak in three west African countries that killed more than 11,000 people.
Politics, as much as policy prescriptions, will be in the minds of many government envoys as voting begins on Tuesday afternoon.
Here is a brief profile of each of the candidates, one of which will be selected for the next five-year term beginning July 1:
David Nabarro: The British physician, who led the UN response to some of the biggest health crises in recent years, including bird flu and Ebola. Despite years of experience dealing with outbreaks at the WHO, critics view Nabarro as much of an insider, so that he may be incapable of introducing radical change needed to overhaul the agency.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: A former health minister from Ethiopia, he would be the first WHO director general from Africa and is believed to have wide support from many African member states. Ghebreyesus is known for expanding Ethiopia’s health system and helping introduce initiatives to curb death caused by malaria
Interestingly, he is the only non-medical doctor in the running. He has also been alleged of covering up cholera outbreaks during his administration, despite international regulations requiring countries to report outbreaks of the bacterial disease.
Sania Nishtar: A Pakistani doctor, who has experience of working on non-communicable diseases for years and once served as a government minister responsible for issues, including health, science and information technology.