GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Wednesday picked three finalists for the role of its next director-general, a high-stakes choice for the powerful agency described as facing an “existential crisis”.
After a day of interviews, WHO’s executive board chose UN veteran David Nabarro of Britain, ex-Pakistani health minister Sania Nishtar and senior Ethiopian politician Tedros Adhanom.
France’s former foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Italy’s Flavia Bustreo, a current WHO deputy chief, were eliminated.
The three finalists will campaign for votes among WHO’s 194 member-countries before a final poll in May.
“This is an enormously important election,” the director of Harvard University’s Global Health Institute, Ashish Jha, told AFP.
“It really is an existential crisis for WHO,” added Jha, co-author of a 2015 report calling for sweeping agency reform.
WHO may be the United Nations’ most influential body, coordinating responses to pandemics like Ebola and Zika, but also setting standards for national healthcare systems including in advanced Western countries.
Since 2006, it has been led by Hong Kong-born Margaret Chan, whose tenure has suffered from accusations of inadequate transparency and accountability.
Who is Dr Sania Nishtar
Nishtar, the only woman in the group, has high-level experience within the UN but also founded and has led Heartfile, a respected non-profit focused on healthcare in Pakistan, possibly giving her the outsider credential that some say the agency needs.
The senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, Yanzhong Huang, told AFP the 53-year-old Nishtar has impressed by voicing a clear commitment to shaking up WHO’s internal governance.