Can a New Director-General Meet the Challenges Facing WHO?

November 02, 2006

As Ruth previously mentioned, all three of the top global health positions are currently up for grabs. Although all eyes are on the Global Fund today, the even more politicized special election for the Director-General of the World Health Organization is only a week away. Christine Gorman has been tracking the recent - and messy - developments over at the TIME Global Health Blog, which raise an important question: Will whoever wins be able to unite the WHO staff, member states, and regional offices in the aftermath of such a divisive election process?

In a recent article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (.pdf), Kelley Lee and Kent Buse address this and other critical challenges facing the new Director-General, including:

  • Defining the scope of the WHO's work plan
  • De-politicizing program funding
  • Capitalizing on its comparative advantage as a technical agency - rather than an operational one - by providing global oversight and coordinating coherent country-level strategies
  • Balancing the value of private sector partnerships with the need for institutional independence and credibility
  • Strengthening the institution's morale and reasserting its leadership in global health

These are by no means easy tasks, and there are many skeptics who doubt that they can be overcome at all. But the authors ultimately conclude that the global health community has a deep-seated interest the success of the new DG, whomever it may be. Why?

Because, despite all of its shortcomings, the world needs WHO. It is indeed ironic that, as WHO struggles to keep pace with rapid globalization, the globalizing world in which we live increasingly needs WHO. There is no other organization that can combine the necessary technical and moral authority to tackle the critical health needs of an increasingly interconnected world.

Update 1: See the WHO candidates debate online here

Update 2: David Brown analyzes the candidates and election process over at the Washington Post

Update 3: David de Ferranti weighs in on what the WHO should differently in its next DG election in an International Herald Tribune op-ed.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.