Opinion: Putting people first at the WHO — from ill health to public health emergencies Mar 21, 2017

Let me share a story with you. In 1987, as a junior public health specialist, I joined a team to control a raging malaria outbreak in southern Ethiopia. It took us almost four weeks to bring the outbreak under control. In that time, I witnessed firsthand so many deaths that I lost count. And I too was infected by malaria.

I bring this up because, in my travels during my campaign to be the next director-general of the World Health Organization, I have met heads of state, ministers of health and ministers of foreign affairs. I’ve discussed the greatest public health concerns and threats of our time. I’ve shared my three decades of experience in public health and politics. But I always find that experiences such as those in southern Ethiopia in 1987 — and having been a victim of malaria myself at that early stage of my career — shapes my conversations.

I use malaria as an example because it is personal to me and because it illustrates a larger point around the necessary skills required to be director-general of the WHO. For make no mistake, the WHO is not merely a huge, sprawling, technical institution. It is a public health agency whose decisions and actions can mean the difference between life and death for billions of people who inhabit our increasingly precarious planet. Hands-on, tested and result-focused experience is what is needed to lead this organization that has been a force for so much good in the world since its establishment on April 7, 1948. Read more.