World Health Organization

  • All
  • WHA Statement
Tips for Tedros from Civil Society

In July, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus began his tenure as the new Director General (DG) of the World Health Organization (WHO). Prior to taking office, Global Health Council (GHC) and partners hosted a World Health Assembly (WHA70) side-event, “Priorities for the Next WHO Director General” to discuss which items the new WHO DG should tackle, and how that leader should work with key partners and stakeholders, specifically civil society. From that event and with support from its members, GHC formulated the recommendations below for Dr. Tedros and team on how WHO can maximize its potential and outreach.  

We stand behind leadership at the World Health Organization (WHO) in driving an agenda for health and wellness worldwide. We believe civil society is critical to those efforts. We recommend the following steps as Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus begins his tenure (Download the full document here):

  1. Listen.

Any good leader knows to listen first. In particular, Dr. Tedros needs to understand critical assumptions and opinions about WHO, and outstanding questions regarding its way forward. Only then can he respond meaningfully to internal and external concerns, and restore confidence in the institution. Listening also allows the new director-general to learn how best to leverage the contributions and talent of staff and missions as well as tailor initiatives and objectives that meet the needs of member states.

  1. Be strategic.

The leadership challenge at WHO is both short- and long-term. It is just as much about what one does today as what one does tomorrow. Dr. Tedros should immediately have conversations with staff and stakeholders that outline his vision for the organization, with the expectation that a roadmap will be delivered after a clearly defined amount of time. Ideally, he establishes a collective understanding regarding next steps. Then, takes action accordingly, prioritizing more pressing goals and activities on which WHO is most qualified to lead.

  1. Know your strengths.

There are issues and activities WHO must clearly take on. Conversely, the agency should leave some activities to other stakeholders. Dr. Tedros needs to make tough decisions about what the organization should and should not do with its limited resources and adopt a laser-focus on its highest and best use. (Ultimately, WHO and those it serves should be able to articulate and demonstrate its added value well.)

  1. Maximize return on investments.

Given WHO’s increasingly-limited resources, leadership must consistently develop and demonstrate value-for-dollar programs and campaigns. This, in turn, helps spur additional investments and enables the organization to unlock more capital for its important work. Dr. Tedros should invest wisely while exploring new avenues of funding that yield the most positive outcomes for the greatest population.

  1. Track success. And failure.

We heard often from previous leadership at WHO that what gets measured gets done. It is an age-old adage that rings just as true for the WHO of today as before. Dr. Tedros and his team should know when they’re doing well so they can expand on good work. It is just as important for them to know when that work is falling short of expectations so they can iterate, accordingly, mitigate negative outcomes, and ensure accountability in the process.

  1. Be transparent.

A key ingredient to ensuring WHO’s success is restoring public trust in the agency. It is no secret that trust in WHO has waned in recent years, with governments and civil society alike questioning its overall effectiveness. Dr. Tedros must face criticisms head-on, acknowledging shortcomings throughout the organization and outlining openly and transparently how he plans to course-correct and reconcile persistent challenges.

  1. Expand partnerships.

It will take many actors to realize the lofty goals of WHO. Therefore, it is critical to invite multiple stakeholders to the table in planning and implementing key initiatives. New champions yield new resources and perspectives that help advance the overall agenda in ways the agency sorely needs.

  1. Think broadly.

The SDG mandate provides an opportunity for WHO to be relevant beyond the health sector alone. World leaders have acknowledged the interconnectedness of development priorities and offered a framework of action for UN agencies and countries alike to partner across core objectives in pursuit of common goals. Dr. Tedros should ensure the agenda of WHO integrates social determinants and SDGs.

  1. Be proactive.

WHO should lead the way in transforming the way people around the world view health and wellness. In a perfect world, key global health priorities, innovations, and investments are driven by WHO. The agency should guide where we should focus our efforts across both long-standing commitments or persistent problems and emerging or less-familiar priorities. Dr. Tedros should be mindful of and sustain this leadership role.

  1. Always focus on the mission.

    Ultimately, there is a greater good that drives leadership and decision-making at WHO in a way that reflects its core purpose and mandate. That should serve as Dr. Tedros’ North Star throughout his tenure and be something he and his team come back to throughout the organization’s direction (or trajectory). Only then can WHO ensure it is acting in service to communities globally and have a meaningful impact.

  2. Tell your story. (We will too.)

    In general, people don’t know WHO. They do not fully understand or appreciate its vast contributions and ultimate value to society.  WHO should communicate how it improves the lives of people worldwide and why the public should care. Ideally, Dr. Tedros encourages public relations campaigns that highlight WHO’s remarkable work and global health leadership.

The world needs WHO to set global health policy and to listen to the health needs of the poor and most vulnerable.

A Long Awaited Commitment to Tackling Dementia

This post was written by Assumpta Nantume, Communications Associate at Global Health Council.

At the 70th World Health Assembly in May this year, member states and delegates endorsed a Global Action Plan on the Public Health Response to Dementia. This pivotal moment followed 10 years of continued conversation, advocacy, and calls for commitment from civil society for the World Health Organization (WHO) to increase recognition of the extensive scale of dementia and the need for immediate collective action.

Dementia poses an overwhelming social and economic burden on individuals, their families, and society at large. Moreover, 58% of people living with dementia live in low- and middle-income countries where access to social protection, mental health services, support, and care are very limited.

An older married couple in Guiguinto, Philippines. © 2015 erickaustria, Courtesy of Photoshare

This situation is further complicated by the poor understanding of mental illness across cultures. Dementia has long been viewed as a natural process of aging, and in poorer communities, it is rarely acknowledged as a serious health concern even when day-to-day tasks become a challenge to the affected individual. In the developed world too, families and caretakers often wait too long before seeking medical advice once a loved one begins presenting with early symptoms like memory loss.

It is also estimated that nearly three-quarters of global dementia cases are undiagnosed; therefore, patients do not have access to the treatment, care, and support that they need. There are several interventions that can be used to delay or slow down the progression of dementia once an individual has been diagnosed – an opportunity that is often lost by either neglecting or not being able to access timely care.

This why the adoption of the Global Action Plan on the Public Health Response to Dementia is such a crucial step in protecting the world’s rapidly aging population and enabling senior citizens worldwide to live a more comfortable and dignified life.

One of the key objectives laid out in the public health response is to promote awareness and close the knowledge gap on dementia in communities where the subject of mental illness is still largely taboo. The global plan also aims to spur action by governments to obtain better data on their population needs, and thereby invest in much-needed infrastructure, programs, and interventions to provide appropriate care for the elderly.

While these new gains and commitments are very promising, civil society must continue to advocate tirelessly for the health and welfare of our senior citizens, and collaborate further to cement this progress. The Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Alliance (GADAA), a champion of global action on dementia, has been a key mobilizer and convener of civil society during the consultation on the draft global action plan, ensuring that our voices and perspectives are included.

By 2050, the world’s population over the age of 60 is projected to make up 22% of the global population. Dementia can no longer be sidelined as a non-urgent priority. We need robust investments to cut down on the years lost and exorbitant economic cost incurred due to the disability dementia imparts on individuals.

Global Health Council’s Collective Voice Converges in Geneva for WHA70

Last week the Seventieth World Health Assembly (WHA70) concluded in Geneva, Switzerland. It was a whirlwind WHA with a WHO Director-General election, and several agenda items – from Health Systems to Communicable Diseases – addressed.

Global Health Council (GHC) sent a robust delegation of 70 members to WHA70, representing multiple health priorities. Many of GHC’s WHA delegates took part in daily huddles, read statements to the Assembly, and partnered on side-events. Although the delegation’s voices were diverse, they were united in celebrating the power of civil society.

Check out the highlights from the blogs of GHC’s WHA delegates and advocates below or peruse through GHC’s WHA70 Storify.

Heroines of Health: Celebrating Women in Global Health
by Women in Global Health

Global Health Security: Why Women Matter
Katherine C. Bond, U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP)

Attacks on Healthcare, Where do We Stand One Year After the Adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2286?
by Len Rubenstein, 
Johns Hopkins Blomberg School of Public Health and Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition

The Power and Promise of Digital Health for Africa
by Lesley-Anne Long

Chronic Childhood Disease: A Personal, Local, and Global Struggle
by Elizabeth Montgomery Collins
, Individual GHC Member

Health in All Policies
by Terry L Schmidt DrHA MBA (MPH)
, Individual GHC Member

Why Investments in Frontline Health Workers Matter: Preventing Needless Deaths through Trusted Healthcare Relationships
by Samalie Kitooleko, Uganda Rheumatic Heart Disease Registry and Belinda Ngongo, Public Health Institute

WHA Side-Event: Enabling Global Health Security Through Health Systems Strengthening: Perspectives from Women Leaders

This blog post was written by WHA Delegate Anne Bell, U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention.

As Tina Flores of Rabin Martin opened the panel on Enabling Global Health Security Through Health Systems Strengthening: Perspectives from Women Leaders, it was heartening to hear her tell the back story of how the panel came to be.  The inspiration began, not with the need to feature women leaders – but through a realization that a great panel put together for an earlier conference on Global Health Security, was, in fact, all women.

The panelists represented many sectors–government, security, private industry, and civil sector–yet it was clear during the discussion that they agreed on several key features.

Key takeaways from the panel include the need for:

Cross-sectoral collaboration that leverages a diverse array of skills and funding sources, from multiple sectors yet measures success against the same yardstick.

An understanding of health systems that goes beyond health care delivery to include strong laboratories that can detect disease quickly, global supply chains that can deliver quality-assured medicines, strong regulatory systems that can detect health threats and well-designed digital health projects that support diagnosis in a variety of settings.

Interventions that incorporate the diverse perspectives of the many sectors working within a country (diplomatic, public, private, civic) and that are based on a solid understanding of the underlying infrastructure of that country (transportation, communication technologies, regulatory systems as well as health systems.)

The Minister of Health of Uganda, Dr. Jane Aceng, reminded those in attendance that with people traveling more, a disease can be transported from one continent to another in less than 24 hours, so Global Health Security is critical. She credited the WHO International Health Regulations for providing a framework for preventing disease transfer across borders, and encouraging countries to strengthen health system capacities so that they can prevent, detect and respond to global health emergencies.

And throughout, the speakers and panelists pointed to the unique abilities and contributions of women and the importance that they are represented in all levels if we are to create the kind of robust health systems capable of responding to global health emergencies.

Diah Saminarsih, Special Adviser to the Minister of Health of Indonesia, urged those in attendance to go home, find and support those future women leaders. “If we increase the status of women, we will increase the health profile of a country.”

For more #WHA70 updates, check out GHC’s daily social media alerts.