WHO elects a new director-general

This week marks the 70th annual meeting of member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. At this 70th World Health Assembly, the WHO will also elect a new director-general. The Dutch magazine Medisch Contact spoke with Wemos’ director Mariëlle Bemelmans about what type of leader the WHO needs.

The new director-general will succeed Dr. Margaret Chan, who has led the WHO since 2006. Medisch Contact held an interview with Mariëlle about the challenges that lie ahead for the new candidate, and what this entails for his or her desirable qualities. Over recent years, the circumstances under which the WHO must operate have become increasingly complex. Epidemics like Zika and Ebola, as well as the rise of ‘lifestyle diseases’ in emerging economies, illustrate this. And diseases like malaria, TB and HIV are still dire challenges too.


Strong leader

This is why, according to Mariëlle, the WHO needs a strong leader. ‘We do not express our preference for a specific candidate, but what we do hope is that he or she will make a strong case for equal access to health worldwide. It would be good if the new director-general dares to look beyond the healthcare sector and takes into account the social and economic determinants of health. Unequal access to health must be tackled worldwide.’ Therefore it is also important to increase country capacity. ‘Only then will the WHO be able to jump in quickly in case of an epidemic,’ says  Mariëlle.


The WHO we want

On the initiative of the Geneva Global Health Hub, Wemos and other organizations have called on WHO member states to elect the right director-general, i.e. someone who will also protect the organization’s integrity and credibility. As companies and private actors have becoming more involved in WHO matters, such values are all the more essential. ‘The WHO must remain independent,’ says Mariëlle.


Read the interview with Mariëlle in Medisch Contact (Dutch)

Read the joint letter Wemos and other organizations wrote to the WHO: ‘The WHO we want and need

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