The 1948 Constitution of the World Health Organization positions the WHO as the ‘guardian’ of everyone’s right to health, which makes the forthcoming election of its next Director General to be of great importance to those who strive for human rights and health justice. This is why we have been closely following the election process, and studying the final three Candidate’s positions. As the WHO process is nearing its conclusion, we are deeply dismayed by the weak words on rights and shallow slogans coming from the next Director General of WHO.
In a few weeks, a new Director General (DG) of the World Health Organization (WHO) will be elected by the representatives of the 193 governments, known as Member States, that govern this UN agency. Although we believe that a human rights-based approach (HRBA) should be the framework of all of the World Health Organization (WHO) policies and programmes, many of the Member States do not share this view on rights. This may explain why after 70 years of the WHO’s mandate to progressively realize the right to health, it has failed to do so. It also may explain why the candidates will not risk losing the potential support of these regressive Member States by proposing real actions and reforms that would advance the right to health, including steps that would make the WHO more accountable to those they serve, the folks on the ground waiting for health justice.
Unfortunately, the billions of people that are most impacted by the policies of the WHO do not have any say in this election process. Only Member States have a vote on the candidates, as well as on every other aspect of WHO policies.
A key element of the human rights-based approach is the participation of affected communities and their civil society organizations in decisions on policies, which would enable the public to be more equal partners in public health development. The WHO is missing this crucial element, and after 70 years, must change.