‘Impressive’ Sania leads race for WHO chief

GENEVA - The World Health Organisation on Wednesday picked three finalists for the role of its next director-general, a high-stakes choice for the powerful agency described as facing an “existential crisis”.

After a day of interviews, WHO’s executive board chose UN veteran David Nabarro of Britain, ex-Pakistani health minister Sania Nishtar and senior Ethiopian politician Tedros Adhanom.

France’s former foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Italy’s Flavia Bustreo, a current WHO deputy chief, were eliminated. The three finalists will campaign for votes among WHO’s 194 member-countries before a final poll in May.

“This is an enormously important election,” the director of Harvard University’s Global Health Institute, Ashish Jha, told AFP. “It really is an existential crisis for WHO,” added Jha, co-author of a 2015 report calling for sweeping agency reform.

Nabarro, 67, is an Oxford-educated doctor who has held a series of high-level WHO posts. With the Ebola crisis raging in August 2014, Nabarro was tapped to take over the botched UN response and won praise for helping contain the outbreak.

Among the top priorities listed on his campaign website is aligning WHO to respond outbreaks and emergencies.

Sania Nishtar, the only woman in the group, has high-level experience within the UN but also founded and has led Heartfile, a respected non-profit focused on healthcare in Pakistan, possibly giving her the outsider credential that some say the agency needs.

The senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, Yanzhong Huang, told AFP the 53-year-old Nishtar has impressed by voicing a clear commitment to shaking up WHO’s internal governance.

Tedros, a former foreign and health minister, is also a renowned malaria researcher, applauded for expanding access to healthcare in Ethiopia.

He is being strongly backed by the African Union and, if elected, would be the first African to lead the global health body.

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