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Three shortlisted candidates bid to lead WHO

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j478 (Published 27 January 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j478

India should support Sania Nishtar for WHO-DG

World Health Organization (WHO) has announced names of 3 finalists for the next Director General - Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia, Dr. Sania Nishtar of Pakistan, and Dr. David Nabarro of Britain - to replace Dr. Margaret Chan, whose second five year term ends June 30, 2017 [1].

Keeping in view that all three are strong candidates, who should India vote for and why? Although India and Pakistan share a common heritage, the relationships between the two have always been complicated. However, the health systems of the two and challenges thereof are similar: insufficient public spending on healthcare, huge out of pocket expenditure, rising non-communicable diseases, periodic outbreaks of communicable diseases, multi-drug resistant TB, maternal and child health issues, poor health indicators etc. Among the three , Nishtar has better understanding of health challenges of the subcontinent and vast experience in dealing with these issues. Her skills and experience in health policy, research, and advocacy would be beneficial in improving healthcare in subcontinent.

Nishtar has been a strong supporter of improving relationship between India and Pakistan, and an advocate to foster Indo-Pak peace through bilateral collaboration in the field of healthcare. She is the chair of the health committee of the bilateral non-governmental India-Pakistan peace initiative - Aman Ki Asha. She has been working with Indian partners to create enabling environment for peace and reconciliation by encouraging people-to-people interaction.

If elected she will be the first South Asian to occupy the prestigious office. This is a historic opportunity for Indian subcontinent and Indian diplomacy. India can play a crucial role in getting her elected as WHO DG. India has nothing to lose by supporting Sania Nishtar, instead it can gain the goodwill of people of Pakistan and a friend at the helm of WHO who better understands health issues of Indian subcontinent and can play a role not only in improving healthcare but also relationships between the two nations.

1. Gulland A. Three shortlisted candidates bid to lead WHO. BMJ 2017;356:j478.

Competing interests: No competing interests

29 January 2017
Mahesh Devnani
Assistant Professor
Dept. of Hospital Administration, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India