The importance of WHO
The work of WHO affects the health, happiness and general wellbeing of each of the seven billion people in our world.
WHO helps countries respond to infectious disease outbreaks and ensures that they do not get out of control. It alerts everyone about risks of illness and shows how diseases can best be controlled. With WHO’s help, health professionals, governments, health care businesses and investors help people to prevent, detect and control conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure; to appreciate the significance of obesity, and tackle it; to prevent disability and enable those who are disabled to live to their full potential; to respond to mental illness, cancers, antibiotic resistance, as well as the particular health needs of infants, growing children, adolescents, women and men, as well as older people. WHO has to do this in ways that empower others to act for the good of the world’s population.
WHO also helps governments work out how best to organize health services for their people – not an easy task. People are living longer, but not always healthier lives, new treatments are ever more costly, and trained midwives, nurses and doctors are in short supply.
It’s a long list of challenges
Most people in today’s world get sick and die because they get diseases that are linked to the ways they live. WHO’s principal role is to show how diet, exercise, water, sanitation, education, conflict, the environment and human rights all influence how long people live and how healthy they are. WHO’s new Director General must understand the way these factors affect health – as well as the interplay between them.
The DG must lead a talented team that helps establish how best to influence these factors and then works with governments to help people maximize health and minimize suffering. The DG must also appreciate that people usually do not want health workers telling them how to live their lives – they want to be empowered to make these decisions for themselves.
Non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and obesity continue to increase, but these can be prevented and at a low cost. If elected, I will ensure that WHO is transformed with a scaled-up and catalytic response to outbreaks of infectious disease as well as to non-communicable illnesses. WHO will set the standards and will ensure they are implemented by working through governments, NGOs and other actors. I will encourage all in WHO to catalyze widespread action on prevention, preparedness and response.
Success is only possible if WHO is seen as attractive for investment – not just by governments. The DG must be able to generate investments and show they are well used. I have consistently and successfully raised money for global responses to complex challenges and I am confident of being able to do this as DG of WHO.
Working for health requires gender-sensitive strategies and a feminist perspective, with the full involvement of women – especially as decision makers. The DG must commit to the realization of all human rights, and to equal numbers of men and women decision makers at all levels, ideally within five years.
There is always room for improvement in any organization. Put simply, I want to build on what WHO does well and improve areas where it is struggling and where I believe my 40 years of global health experience will have the most impact.
The next Dr WHO
I present myself as a medical doctor, with 40 years of experience both at the frontline and the policy arena. I have successfully led global responses to major challenges including malaria, food insecurity, avian influenza and Ebola. I have led the United Nation’s work on sustainable development, the health of women and wellbeing of children.
This clinical experience, not just the theory but the practice, is an essential requirement for the leader. The DG needs the scientific background, the connections and the organizational ability to ensure that polio is eradicated, to advance efforts against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, to face up to chronic diseases and to tackle the emergence of super-bugs that are resistant to antibiotics (the problem of anti-microbial resistance, or AMR for short).
Whoever runs the WHO must have proven experience in responding to disease outbreaks and emergencies, working in different national settings, and commanding the respect of international health professionals from the full range of government and non-government organizations. The DG must also command the respect of many thousands of hard working and dedicated health professionals, including (but not only) midwives, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory workers, first responders and all kinds of doctors. This is especially important for those who fight for people’s lives on the frontline.
But in addition, the DG must have experience of working with world leaders, politicians and funders and be familiar with the intricacies of the UN system. I have worked in more than 50 countries and I know what is required at all levels, from local staff on the front line to Prime Ministers and Presidents.
I am a firm believer in the “leave no one behind” approach. If I am elected this will be at the heart of WHO’s work. I will strive to ensure that the most vulnerable are not forgotten, that women get access to the health services they need and that people everywhere can look forward to a healthier future.
Why I’m ready
WHO DG is a challenging and important role. It is huge, and it matters to everyone throughout our world. The WHO is a vital organization for a healthy world and I am passionate about ensuring it can deliver results.
When we were medical students our teachers would ask: “What kind of a doctor do you want to be?” That is usually a signal to explain the specialism you want to follow: plastic surgery, cardiology, psychiatry, endocrinology: there are many possibilities. At the time I would say that I wanted to be in a position to serve those who get sick, whoever they were, wherever they lived.
Most of all I wanted to serve those who are most in need, who – without help – would suffer greatly or die. I wanted to be a good doctor, one who brought good quality care to those in need: who would help them keep healthy and avoid debilitating illness. That was my ambition then, and it has not changed. So in many ways the role of DG is the job that I have been training for my entire life: I am motivated to do it by every patient I’ve ever treated, and by every community that I have served.