Intended for healthcare professionals


Facing forward after Ebola: questions for the next director general of the World Health Organization

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 18 May 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2666
  1. Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health1,
  2. Ilona Kickbusch, director, global health programme2 ,
  3. Suerie Moon, research director, Harvard Global Health Institute3,
  4. Victor Dzau, president4 ,
  5. David Heymann, director5,
  6. Ashish K Jha, professor3,
  7. Jorge Saavendra, chief, global affairs6,
  8. Barbara Stocking, president7,
  9. Liana Woskie, assistant director, Harvard Initiative on Global Health Quality3,
  10. Peter Piot, director8
  1. 1Edinburgh University Medical School, Edinburgh EH8 9AG, UK
  2. 2Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland
  3. 3Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, USA
  4. 4National Academy of Medicine, Washington DC, US
  5. 5Centre for Global Health Security, Chatham House, London, UK
  6. 6AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Mexico City, Mexico
  7. 7Murray Edwards College Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK
  8. 8London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: D Sridhar devi.sridhar{at}

In light of heavy criticism of the WHO’s handling of the Ebola outbreak, the election process for the next director general will be under intense scrutiny. Devi Sridhar and colleagues outline the key questions on epidemic preparedness for prospective candidates

When the member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) elect a new director general in May 2017, they will decide the future of the organisation. The agency needs a strong global health leader determined to regain the trust of the international community and to position WHO in a rapidly changing environment.1 The history of director general elections indicates that member states consider many factors when choosing a candidate: political alliances, diplomatic deals, and regional considerations all come into play. This makes it hard to decide on the best candidate for the job.

BOX: Timeline for nominating and appointing WHO’s director general8

  • 22 September 2016: Deadline for member states to put forward names of candidates

  • January 2017: WHO executive board will draw up a shortlist of up to five candidates, and following interviews will nominate up to three candidates for the final shortlist

  • May 2017: Member states vote using a secret ballot at the World Health Assembly

  • July 2017: New director general will take office

We were members of three independent panels that have met over the past year to review the responses to the Ebola crisis, especially the work of the WHO.2 3 4 Our panels agreed that strong leadership was essential in the face of health crisis, and we are concerned about where director general candidates stand on the challenges faced by global and national organisations responding to a health emergency (any event that creates a health risk to the public) or disease outbreak. In contrast to the election of the UN secretary general, there is no provision for public debate …

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