Intended for healthcare professionals

The candidates running for WHO director general

In May 2017 a new director general of the World Health Organization will be elected—one of the world’s most critical appointments. The process is long and highly political.

This election is more open and transparent than any previous. Traditionally, the WHO's executive board (34 individuals, nominated by member states on a 3 year tenure) would decide on the director general. Now the board have whittled candidates down to a short-list of 3, and member states will vote on their favourite.

Those three finalists are Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Sania Nishtar, and David Nabarro. 

The three finalists have each set out their vision for the WHO if they are elected as the next director general.

The Graduate Insitutue for Internation and Development Studies, recently hosted a debate with the three final candidates (available in English, French and Spanish)

At that event, The BMJ asked delegates about the election process, and what future challenges the director general will face.


The final three

Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of The BMJ, and Suerie Moon, policy director at the Global Health Centre of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, have interviewed the six candidatesthe questions asked were based on the recent publication in The BMJ of Ilona Kickbusch et al's analysis paper "How to choose the world’s top health diplomat".




David Nabarro

Born: 25 August, 1949 (age 67)
Nationality: British
Current role:
Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General.

"...Deal with the big outbreaks, deal with them quickly, deal with them without regret"


Key policies:
WHO as a catalyst
Multilateral working
Inclusion of non-state organisations

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Sania Nishtar

Born: February 16, 1963 (age 53)
Nationality: Pakistani
Current role:
Founder and president of Heartfile

"... Freedom of information is the oxygen of democracy"


Key policies:
Tackle politicisation
Increase accountability

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Tedros Adhanom

Born: March 03, 1965 (age 51)
Nationality: Ethiopian
Current role:
Minister, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister


"We have to focus on implementation... we have to get things done"

Key policies:
Consensus building
Internal transformation

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The unsuccessful candidates

Flavia Bustreo

Philippe Douste-Blazy

Mikós Szcóska


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