Human Rights and WHO Election

Human Rights and WHO ElectionHuman Rights and the Election of the Next WHO Director-General: Public Accountability Now

By Eric Friedman

I believe that human rights, and the right to health in particular, should be a top priority of and guiding principle for the next WHO Director-General, whom the world’s health ministers will choose at the World Health Assembly in May. Human rights, after all, encompass the values needed to achieve health for all and health justice, such as equity, non-discrimination, universality, participation, and accountability. They are legally binding precepts. Above all, they embrace human dignity, and the utmost respect for all people in health systems and health-related decisions. They embody the notion of people-centered health services.

This importance demands electing to the post a credible and strong leader on human rights, someone with a history of fighting injustice, of opposing human rights violations, of standing up for the marginalized and oppressed, of resisting political, corporate, or other interests that stand in the way of human rights. This centrality of human rights means electing an individual willing to stand against forces and policies that tolerate or even perpetuate discrimination, or that let political or other concerns override the rights of women, minorities, immigrants, political opponents, or anyone else. It entails appointing a person who views organizations fighting for human rights as partners, even when their own governments may oppose them.

Three candidates remain in the race to be the next WHO Director-General: Tedros Adhanom, David Nabarro, and Sania Nishtar. All candidates should be accountable for their past support of human rights, and outline their plans for furthering human rights around the world if chosen to lead WHO. While it is important for all candidates to do this, one candidate in particular ought to provide a detailed public account of where he stands, and has stood, on human rights. Having spent more than a decade as a cabinet minister in a government that has committed large-scale human rights abuses, Dr. Tedros must make clear his position and intention.

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End Ivory-Toweritis

Ivory-Toweritis“Ivory-Toweritis is a curable mental illness, but we urgently need to develop a rapid diagnostic test to end the suffering it causes.” – Dr. Fora Rites
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Is it disrespect or disinterest? Too high-up to exchange with folks from the ‘bottom’?  Too well-paid and too professional to collaborate with unpaid activists and their community based organisations?

Why is there such an enormous barrier between those who make global health policies and those who must live, or die, by their decisions?  Why is there such a gap between their stated goals on “inclusive engagement” and the de-facto exclusion of affected communities from the decision-making processes?

Over the years, we have tried to connect with many public health professionals that make decisions that impact on our health and that of our communities. The aim is always to begin a dialogue on how to turn their noble words, like ‘leaving no one behind’, into realities on the ground through collaboration and cooperation.

Sometimes, we have had responses to our e-mails and start an exchange which is of mutual interest. We’ve established some ongoing relationships and a few direct collaborations, which has shown that working together as real partners is possible even within the top-down world of public health governance.

However, too often we have not had any replies to our correspondence. Too often attempts to establish contact are like a long one-way street that goes nowhere — a dead end. Gentle reminders have proved to be a waste of gentleness. We are not alone in being disempowered and disheartened — many other community activists and NGOs are becoming jaded by public health experts that say “we need to hear the ‘voices’ of the community” yet make it impossible to actually do so in real terms. The hypocrisy of those at the ‘top’ is eating away at the good will of engaged folks at the ‘bottom’, which discourages the local public participation that should be central to efforts to improve health and well-being on the ground.

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