Since I started to campaign for the position of World Health Organization Director-General in October 2016, I have heard much about the expectations of the WHO from national and local Governments, health advocates, community workers, NGOs, international personnel, researchers, business leaders and individuals in the media . I have found that many of those with whom I speak want to know more about what I believe and what I would like to see happening in world health. 

I have provided answers to the WHO web forum questions, asked of me by WHO Member States, but these are not widely available.  So, I have decided to write a series of reflections on issues that I know are of interest to many different actors.

The consistent threads throughout my reflections will be:

  • Equity and access
  • Achieving maximum impact through catalytic relationships
  • Servant leadership
  • Excellence, courage and tenacity in WHO
  • Focus on development of national capabilities.

Within this series of reflections, I plan to cover Infectious Diseases, Managing Outbreaks and Health Emergencies, Antimicrobial Resistance, Countering the threat of Non-Communicable Diseases, Health through the Life Cycle, SDGs and Health, Health Systems and Universal Health Coverage, Environment and Health: Innovation in WHO, and The WHO of the Future - Countries and Regions. 

Background – My Vision and Priorities

In September 2016 I released my vision for the role of World Health Organization Director-General.  I said: “Our world is challenged by a changing climate, violent conflict, persistent poverty and mass migration. The benefits of globalization and new technologies are unequally shared. People everywhere face an ever-growing avalanche of threats to their health. The challenges for health care systems are more complex day by day.  I have worked on these kinds of issues in communities, governments and international organizations for over 40 years.  The need for a robust, reliable and responsive World Health Organization has never been more urgent”.

I identified four priority areas on which I seek to focus:

Health within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The 2030 Agenda offers a clear roadmap for a more peaceful, equitable and prosperous future within communities and nations. Health is central to the achievement of the SDGs. Action across the SDGs contributes to better health outcomes – especially when there are multiple determinants.  As a result of my experience in the last year as UN Special Adviser on Sustainable Development I am ready to ensure that the WHO is well-positioned for this new era. I will ensure horizontal, cross-disciplinary, inter-sectoral working that yields measurable results; at this stage I can see this approach being especially important for mental health, non-communicable diseases, and the well-being of women, children and adolescents.

Transforming the WHO for a predictable response to outbreaks and health emergencies

In times of outbreaks and health emergencies, the WHO is expected to exercise leadership by providing unparalleled technical expertise, while empowering others to act. I have led inter-agency efforts to combat disease threats and outbreaks (including malaria, avian influenza, Ebola, Zika, and cholera). In 2015-2016, I chaired the Advisory Group on the Reform of the WHO’s Work in Outbreaks and Emergencies. I am committed to completing the work needed to solidify the WHO’s capacity to respond to outbreaks and health emergencies.

Ensuring trusted Secretariat engagement with Member States

National authorities have the primary responsibility to promote the health of their people, but health objectives cannot be achieved without the full engagement of people and civil society, as well as decisive leadership and strong commitment from governments. The WHO needs to be a trusted partner of all governments while holding itself to the pledge that world leaders themselves made in the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind. I have consistently sought to engage with Member States in ways that are respectful and reliable, consistent, transparent and accountable.

Advancing people-centered health policies and systems

Ever since the Primary Health Care Movement in the 1970s, the WHO has advocated people-centered policies for health. Implementation depends on there being spaces in which organizations working for people’s health engage openly with other stakeholders. It calls for consistent attention to the capabilities and circumstances of care providers. I continue to champion the interests of all who work to sustain people’s health everywhere – including within households, communities, workplaces, health care facilities and institutions.

You may have ideas or comments on the different pieces in this “Reflections” series. Please do share your thoughts with me, particularly on ways to maximize WHO’s impact on the issues that matter to the people and the nations of this world.