As strategic leader for world health, WHO needs to appreciate and be responsive to the needs of Member States and their people. This means that WHO needs to support national governments in the pursuit of health objectives, providing excellent technical advice, identifying gaps in national capacities and engaging in political advocacy to ensure such gaps are addressed. At the same time, just as world leaders pledged to leave no one behind when they adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, WHO must strive to listen and respond to all stakeholders, ensuring that the most vulnerable and those that are hardest to reach have access to quality health services.

In this context leadership is vital: it must be both strategic and sensitive. WHO’s health leaders need to use diplomatic skills to broker constructive agreement and avoid gridlock when national interests diverge. They need to make it clear at the highest levels of government when States fail to honour international regulations in ways that impact on the health of their own or other populations. They need to use the power of evidence to hold up a mirror to States’ performance. They should be ready to champion issues that are vital to the right to health while recognizing that for some Members these may be controversial. They must be able to accept criticism and acknowledge that their judgements will be questioned.