Civil society movement calls for transparency in the WHO director-general elections

The non-transparent process currently taking place to select the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) is unacceptable, say the People's Health Movement (PHM) - a worldwide network of individuals and civil society organisations - in a Viewpoint published online today (Tuesday October 24, 2006) by The Lancet.

WHO is the world's leading global health agency. The election for a new Director-General to head the organisation is currently underway. A shortlist of 13 candidates running for this position was released by WHO in early September with little or no public discussion amongst the health community. "The final selection will be the result of opaque power brokerage involving 34 members of the Executive Board. Behind closed doors, they will interview and then select from a shortlist," writes David McCoy and colleagues in their Viewpoint. They add that the criteria used to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and how they scored will not be made public.

To encourage a more transparent process for the final selection of the position, PHM has asked all candidates to respond to a set of questions*. These include:

  • How will you counterbalance the disproportionate effect of the governments of rich countries, particularly the USA, on policy development in WHO?

  • How will you ensure that WHO plays a more assertive role in protecting public health interests in the face of trade agreements (e.g. the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) that seem to be harmful?

  • What steps would you take to ensure that WHO is able to resist pressures from corporate interests and their allies for WHO to adopt a weaker position on health promotion and protection?

PHM is also compiling profiles of the candidates to facilitate a more public examination of their strengths and weaknesses. Their move follows on from The Lancet's attempts to increase transparency in the selection process**. After the election, PHM will begin to garner support for a complete reform of the way the Director-General will be appointed in the future.

In the Viewpoint, the authors also outline the key global health challenges for the next head of WHO. They call on WHO to address the macro-economic and political causes of poverty and under-resourced health care systems. "Poverty remains the world's biggest health problem, underlying the HIV/AIDS crisis, the high mortality attributed to tuberculosis and malaria, and the 30 000 deaths of children every day from preventable and treatable cause", state the authors. More people live in poverty today compared to the late 1980s according to conservative estimates produced by the World Bank. PHM also believe that the next Director-General needs to make human rights a pillar of WHO's work.

"To adopt a bolder, broader, and more progressive public-health agenda, WHO will need a charismatic, wise, and courageous leadership. The hundreds of millions of people with the least access to health care deserve a Director-General capable of providing decisive intellectual leadership and withstanding political pressure," state the authors.

At the same time, they argue that the governing body of WHO, consisting of governments, must ensure that WHO is properly funded and empowered to carry out its mandate to facilitate the fulfilment of universal rights to essential health care.


Contact: Dr David McCoy on T) + 44 795 2597244 [email protected]

Dr Hani Serag on T) + 20 1271-08887 [email protected]

Dr Ravi Narayan [email protected]

The Lancet press office T) +44 (0) 207 424 4949/4249 [email protected]

Notes to editors

*PHM questions to and responses from the WHO Director-General candidates plus their profiles are being posted on

**For a special web page featuring all The Lancet's 2006 WHO election coverage see Profiles of each of the candidates, questions and responses to six questions posed by The Lancet, and an analysis of the candidates by Editor, Richard Horton are included on this page.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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