Year-long electoral processes of the next WHO director-general begin: Does our Teddy stand any chance?

25 Apr

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

On April 22, 2016, WHO announced that its process to elect its next director-general has just begun. Accordingly, as of last Friday, Member States have been advised to nominate candidates to head the global public health body.

The WHO says this is the first step in its rigorous process that will culminate in a final round of voting at the World Health Assembly in May 2017 to select its leader, who would assume his responsibilities on 1 July 2017.

The WHO’s function, according to its Constitution, is “to act as the directing and co-ordinating authority on international health work, which has been enhanced with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development, chiefly in ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.

In that regard, the point man for this undertaking is the director-general, who is WHO’s chief technical and administrative officer and oversees policy for the organization’s international health work. The current incumbent, Dr Margaret Chan, was elected in 2006 and will complete her second term on 30 June next year. By law, she is not eligible for a third term.

We are told that the process for nominating and appointing WHO’s director-general has been substantially revised since the last election took place in 2012. Innovations such as a Code of Conduct and forums for candidates to interact with Member States will be part of the election process to promote transparency and fairness in the selection procedures.

The Code of Conduct is a statement of appropriate practices and roles for Member States, candidates and WHO Secretariat during the electoral process. It sets out a number of general requirements such as openness, dignity, equity and good faith, as well as specific requirements on issues such as financial disclosure and avoidance of conflicts of interest.

In 2017 the World Health Assembly will appoint the new Director-General from among up to 3 candidates. Previously, just one nomination was submitted by WHO’s Executive Board to the World Health Assembly, which then made the final appointment.

The successor World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General to Dr. Margaret Chan, whosoever it is, would takeover the responsibilities from her on 1 July 2017. At this stage, we do not know who the candidates are and how many they are. To date, the only publicly known candidate is Ethiopia’s Dr.Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

According to standing WHO procedures, the WHO Secretariat announces the names of the candidates on or about September 23, 2016.

In accordance with rule 106 of the Rules of Procedure of the Health Assembly, the Assembly appoints the DG from among the candidates nominated by the Board and on such terms as the Health Assembly may determine, as per the relevant rules.

The term of office of the Director-General shall be five years, and he or she shall be eligible for reappointment once only.

From what we already know, the already known candidate from Ethiopia, who is a member of the top leadership of the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Dr.Tedros Adhanom has faced numerous challenges to his candidacy on account of:

    (a) the candidate’s nominating state, which is the Ethiopian state under the TPLF lacks moral credibility and and ethical quality, as a regime known for its persecution, imprisonment of journalists, pregnant women and lactating mothers on political grounds

    (b) the regime has horrendous human rights practices and record, including torture, disappearances and killings, which all important international instruments vigorously condemn

    (c) Dr. Tedros Adhanom is also known to suffer from integrity problems, especially on the credibility side.

    (d) Ethiopians and a number of civil society organizations have opposed his candidacy, alleging corruption, ethnic discrimination, malfeasance, and pumping numbers to highlight non-existent achievements, especially when Dr. Tedros Adhanom was Ethiopia’s minister of health from 2005-2012. His appointment has also been a matter controversy and gossip, since he was appointed minister because of his ethnic origin, not capability to deliver concrete achievements.


The concern of those Ethiopians who have sounded their objection to his nomination to the director-general post, supported by the killer regime in Ethiopia and the African Union, the front for dictators in the region, is consistent with the guiding principle of Doctors for Human Rights. Their organization rightly states, “health is contingent upon respect for human rights.”

The other concern of these Ethiopians is that one of the relatively better run United Nations agencies, that is, WHO should not be undermined by a person who lacks commitment to the very principles enshrined in the WHO Constitution, and are basic to the happiness, harmonious relations and security of all peoples:

    *   Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

    *   The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.

    *   The health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security and is dependent upon the fullest co-operation of individuals
    and States.

    *   The achievement of any State in the promotion and protection of health is of value to all.

    *   Unequal development in different countries in the promotion of health and control of disease, especially communicable disease, is a common danger.

    *   Healthy development of the child is of basic importance; the ability to live harmoniously in a changing total environment is essential to such development.

    *   The extension to all peoples of the benefits of medical, psychological and related knowledge is essential to the fullest attainment of health.

    *   Informed opinion and active co-operation on the part of the public are of the utmost importance in the improvement of the health of the people.

    *   Governments have a responsibility for the health of their peoples which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.


Election process

The process of electing a new Director-General takes more than one year, and key steps going forward are as follows:

Member States will have until 22 September 2016 to submit proposals for nominations to the post of Director-General, at which point the names of the candidates and their proposers will be made public.

In October, Member States and candidates will be given the opportunity to interact in a password-protected web forum hosted on the WHO website.
In November, over a period of up to 3 days, a live forum will be held, at which candidates will present their vision to WHO Member States and will also be able to answer questions on their candidacy.

In January 2017, WHO’s Executive Board will use a new electronic voting system to draw up a short list of up to 5 candidates. Executive Board members will then interview these candidates and nominate up to 3 of them to go forward to the World Health Assembly in May 2017.

At the World Health Assembly, Member States will vote in a new director-general.

World Health Assembly

The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO. It is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board. The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of the Organization, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed program budget.

Executive Board

The Executive Board is composed of 34 technically qualified members elected for three-year terms. The annual Board meeting is held in January when the members agree upon the agenda for the World Health Assembly and the resolutions to be considered by the Health Assembly.


    Does Dr. Tedros Adhanom have the requisite qualifications to become next WHO Director-General?

    Ethiopian civic and political organizations call for the WHO to reject the candidacy of Dr. Tedros Adhanom for the position of Director General


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