For the first time in a decade, the world’s leading global health organization is searching for a new leader.
The World Health Organization announced late last week that the process to replace its director general, Dr. Margaret Chan, has officially begun. Several names are reportedly already in the hat, including former health ministers from Ethiopia and France.
Unofficially, jockeying for global health’s top job has been underway for a while. But under new rules put in place to govern the selection of the next director-general, countries could only begin to formally nominate candidates as of last Friday. Individuals must be nominated by one or more countries.
Chan, who has served as director general since November 2006, will finish her current term on June 30, 2017; she ran unopposed for her second term in 2012. Her successor will take the organization’s helm the day after she leaves office.
Among the likely contenders is Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia, whose nomination was reportedly endorsed by the executive council of the African Union.
Tedros — he is known by his first name — has served as his country’s health minister and minister of foreign affairs, and has been actively involved in global health, serving at points as chair of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, as well as the Roll Back Malaria Partnership,
Also thought to be seeking the WHO job is Dr. Philippe Douste-Blazy, chair of the executive board of UNITAID, an international organization dedicated to improving the diagnosis and treatment of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
There has been talk that Douste-Blazy — a former minister of health and of foreign affairs for France — would be his country’s nominee since at least last summer. In an interview in February, he would neither confirm nor rule out that he would be running.
“Several people have actually thought of me for this position so crucial in the global health landscape. I am sincerely touched. Formal applications must be submitted in April. It is, therefore, too early to say,” he said in an interview with a French website, What’s Up Doc?, a magazine for young doctors.
The selection process will be a lengthy one, with the WHO’s executive board drawing up a short list of five candidates when it meets in January 2017. After interviewing the five, the executive board will nominate up to three of them to go forward to the full membership of the WHO for a vote.
That vote will take place at the 2017 World Health Assembly, the annual general meeting of the WHO.
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Chan, 68, was selected to run the global health agency in November 2006 in a process necessitated by the death, in office, of her predecessor, Dr. J.W. Lee of South Korea. A native of Hong Kong, she was nominated by China.
Her tenure has been marked by a series of global health crises —including the 2009 influenza pandemic and the unprecedented outbreak of Ebola in West Africa — that have opened the organization and Chan herself to criticism.
The WHO’s response to the former was deemed to be an overreaction when the pandemic was more mild than feared, and its slow response to the latter has been decried. A series of postmortems have been harsh, though most have noted the agency’s funding has been inadequate for the tasks it is asked to fulfill.