WHA70: Priorities for the next WHO Director-General

Date: 23rd of May 2017

Time: 12-2:00 PM

Place: Geneva Press Club

The Global Health Council and MSH organized a discussion-focused side event to talk about what the main priorities of the next Director General of World Health Organization should be, with recommendations from the events to be forwarded later on to the new DG and disseminated publicly.

The main keynote speaker was United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price who emphasized that the US fully and strongly supports WHO. Price believes that health emergencies, including disease outbreaks, are an alarming issue and that the next DG should have as a priority to achieve global health security. He highlighted the importance of polio eradication and emphasized that WHO should continue to empower its efforts to eradicate Polio once and for all. Mr. Price also mentioned the DG should manage political sensitivities between regional and country offices of WHO and make WHO more accountable and transparent in terms of resources and if results are being achieved.

Ashish Jha, Director of Harvard Global Health Institute, shared his thoughts that WHO is essential for building and maintaining global health even though people are highly critical of the organization. The next DG should commit to internally reforming WHO through the use of transparency and accountability mechanisms that go beyond the WHA and DG elections. Dr. Jha also stated that a challenge to the mission of WHO is knowing what they don't do, which can be a challenge to figure out. The next DG should go through a strategy process to review and set priorities on which issues WHO should focus on and which issues that it should not.

Loyce Pace, President and Director of Global Health Council, was the next speaker and stressed the importance of having a DG that continues to speak openly and directly with all people. WHO has lot of consensuses and norms and it should be a place where other people can contribute to set guidance and form policies. Loyce was followed by John Flannery, CEO and President of GE Healthcare, who continued on saying that the WHO should focus on the need to increase the training capacity and clinical capacity of WHO and the next DG should have a quantitative approach and accountability on how to put all the resources together.

Jan Beagle, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDs moved the discussion forward with a comprehensive list of proposed next-DG main priorities, citing prevention, social determinants of health, innovation and new ways to do business, the use of technology internally and externally, and building and strengthening partnerships. She spoke on gender equality and listed empowerment of women as a key factor to empower the DG agenda and shared her hopes that the new DG will be in favor of gender equality within the organization.

Mark Dybul, Executive Director, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, stated that the next DG should manage health emergencies and set up an accountable system for doing so, keeping in mind that rapid response should be inter-sectoral. Mr. Dybul believes that WHO partnerships should be focused on the core and relate to everyone else down to village level. He also thinks that the next DG should be focusing on the role of partners, while addressing areas WHO is vulnerable in and how to manage human resources, knowing who else is out there and how to utilize the services of others and include them in the process.

The DG candidates have all openly said they are committing to gender equity and to a 50/50 goal, and WGH just released 60/40 pledge for gender parity in global health panels, as well as the Call to Action, which could be an important way to hold the incoming DG accountable for instituting these goals. In addition to the focus on gender parity in WHO leadership and operations, the overarching themes in this event ranged from the need for accountability and transparency -a message continually reinforced by all speakers and which we have seen throughout other events as well as the DG election - to partnerships and strengthening WHO collaboration with other sectors. The question remains: will the next DG, commit to these priorities or at least consider them for the next 100 days?

(Image Courtesy of WHO/L. Cipriani)

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