Reimagining WHO: leadership and action for a new Director-General

Lawrence O. Gostin, Eric A. Friedman

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


Three candidates to be the next WHO Director-General remain: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, David Nabarro, and Sania Nishtar. The World Health Assembly's ultimate choice will lead an organisation facing daunting internal and external challenges, from its own funding shortfalls to antimicrobial resistance and immense health inequities. The new Director-General must transform WHO into a 21st century institution guided by the right to health. Topping the incoming Director-General's agenda will be a host of growing threats—risks to global health security, antimicrobial resistance, non-communicable diseases, and climate change—but also the transformative potential of the Sustainable Development Goals, including their universal health coverage target. Throughout, the next Director-General should emphasise equality, including through national health equity strategies and, more boldly still, advancing the Framework Convention on Global Health. Success in these areas will require a reinvigorated WHO, with sustainable financing, greater multisector engagement, enhanced accountability and transparency, and strengthened normative leadership. WHO must also evolve its governance to become far more welcoming of civil society and communities. To create the foundation for these transformative changes, the Director-General will need to focus first on gaining political support. This entails improving accountability and transparency to gain member state trust, and enabling meaningful civil society participation in WHO's governance and standing up for the right to health to gain civil society support. Ultimately, in the face of a global environment marked by heightened nationalism and xenophobia, member states must empower the next Director-General to enable WHO to be a bulwark for health and human rights, serving as an inspiring contra-example to today's destructive politics, demonstrating that the community of nations are indeed stronger together.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)755-759
Number of pages5
JournalThe Lancet
Issue number10070
StatePublished - Feb 18 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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