WHO must strengthen partnerships at a global level

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 18 January 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:125

Ismail Sallam, a former professor of cardiac surgery, was Egypt's minister of health and population from 1996 to 2001

On 27–28 January, the World Health Organization executive board picks its new director general elect. The BMJ asked all eight candidates what they would do if they got the job. We print extracts from the replies on the next four pages. Full answers are available on

What will be your priorities on taking office?

As director general my priorities would be driven by a commitment to equity and alleviation of disparities. I believe that the world community genuinely wants to alleviate the true causes of ill health and disease. Public health and primary healthcare systems should be the cornerstones at country and global levels. My priorities would be to focus on:

  • Leadership and advocacy—WHO should assert a strong leadership in promoting health so that it is given priority in the complex and highly politicised global development agenda.

  • Strengthening partnerships with the industry, academia, research institutions, and non-governmental organisations.

  • Developing a strong evidence base to enable WHO policymaking and governing bodies to take sound decisions and to enable them to improve managerial processes and governance.

  • Ascertaining that the health programmes designated by countries and WHO governing bodies as priorities are provided with the best possible technical and managerial support.

  • Boosting the morale of WHO staff by ensuring that they are given clear objectives.

What will you do to champion the needs of the developing world?

The director general should focus on strengthening WHO's leadership in promoting global health as an integral component of a global system for human development and security. He has to ensure active participation of countries and regions within the organisation in a collective manner to optimise the reach and the effectiveness of WHO's global health policies and recommendations. WHO should address the concerns and aspirations of its different members in a democratic manner.

What will you do to change the culture of WHO so that there is greater openness, communication, and internal debate?

Greater transparency calls for improved tools for better planning, sensible resource allocation, and a management information system that truly ties objectives to programmes, to resources, to ongoing and planned implementation, and to formal evaluation and effectiveness auditing. I would strongly welcome a regular, international, independent, expert external audit of WHO's work.

What kind of reform is needed to WHO's regional structure? How will you achieve this?

The performance of WHO personnel cannot be expected to reach a level of excellence unless they are provided with an insightful, supportive leadership and a suitable working atmosphere, as well as performance based incentives. I strongly believe that WHO's major resource as a technical agency is its personnel. WHO's technical successes can be attributed almost entirely to the quality of the work of its staff.

What new ideas do you have for funding WHO's core activities?

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Encouraging government healthcare services to cooperate with the private sector and, possibly, non-governmental organisations.

WHO has to show that it has optimally used its existing financial and other resources. It should put forward concrete examples of such “optimal uses” as part of its fundraising efforts.

The national political authorities in countries have to be stimulated in order to obtain a major political commitment to health.

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