WHO DG Forum: Outside Looking In

I’m trying to watch a live-stream of the World Health Organization’s Candidates’ Forum, part of the selection process for WHO’s next Director General. The audio drops-out and the image is blurred as the broadband is too slow. Six candidates have been nominated by WHO Member States (governments), and over the last two days they have been outlining their visions to, and answering questions from, the 196 Member States.

As always, the WHO process completely excludes the participation of civil society in general, and in particular, of the millions of poor people whose lives depend on public health programs and WHO’s leadership of global health. We have no role whatsoever in this election process — only 196 Member States have a say on who will be the next WHO Director General, perhaps the most important job in international health. No vote, no online consultation, no ‘town hall meeting’, nor anyway that the Candidates and civil society can exchange views or questions. “But it’s live-streamed!”, the WHO proudly announces.

While I try to watch each of the candidate’s presentations, with their noble words about the importance of engaging with civil society or listening to community voices, it seems as if I am standing outside the glass doors of their regal meeting room in Geneva, straining to follow through muffled audio and blurred visuals.  Who ever becomes the next Director General of WHO will need to understand that ’community engagement’ is more than just allowing folks to stand outside looking in. The next WHO election process in 2021 must be more inclusive and open, including the meaningful participation of those being ‘left behind’ and their civil society organisations. It’s a human rights obligation that the World Health Organization signed on to in 2003.  It’s clear, not blurred.