Who Will Lead the WHO?

Upcoming Elections

In May 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) will hold its General Assembly. Member states will select who the new director general is to be. The WHO plays a major indirect role on the ongoing EU Health Commission discussions on tracking and tracing tobacco products as they have created clear guidelines on tobacco product tracing outlined in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Who are the WHO Candidates?

Dr. Sania Nisthar

Dr. Nisthar is the former Pakistani Health minister and runs her own NGO called Heartfile. Dr. Nisthar is also the co-chair of the WHO Commission on ending child obesity.

Dr Nisthar was know for her fights against big tobacco in Pakistan. Below I have listed some of her feats in this regard:

  1. Active member on the International Non-Governmental Coalition Against Tobacco
  2. Heartfile promoted the “ban-TAPS” Campaign in Pakistan and celebrated “world no tobacco day”
  3. published articles against the tobacco industry.
  4. Conducted research  into socioeconomic influence on tobacco use

Dr. David Nabarro

Dr Nabarro has spend much of his career at the WHO and UN. Dr. Nabarro served in a verity of roles relating to nutrition and food safety. He has also spoken out against big tobaccos attempts to influence the WHO. He has stated in the past that the WHO “needed better safeguards from industry interests.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

The only non-MD contender is Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Dr. Tedros is a seasoned political actor who served in many prestigious and senior government roles in his native Ethiopia. He served as both foreign and health minister. Although not an MD, Dr Tedros is no doubt academically qualified for such a WHO role as he has a PhD on community health.

Dr Tedros’ relationship with big tobacco is a bit more complex that the other two candidates. I spoke to leading tobacco control activists in Africa expressed concern about Dr Tedros.

As foreign minister Dr Tedros seemed to facilitate BAT investment in Ethiopia which came in the form of a meeting with BAT officials while on a visit to The UK.

Additionally Dr. Frank Ashall an associate professor at an Ethiopian university  and now the director of Africa Tobacco-Free initiative has written articles apposing Dr Tedros’ candidacy.  Dr Ashall’s concerns revolve around  2016 Deal involving Dr Tedros that saw Japan Tobacco International purchase 40% ownership in the Ethiopian government owned National Tobacco Enterprise.

Dr Ashall explained in a comment o this blog that: “(Dr Tedros was) Foreign Minister at the time, and as a man who should care about expansion of tobacco and increased cigarette smoking in his own country, and as a man who is hoping to become WHO Director General, he should unquestionably have spoken out against this deal.”

I sent a series of questions to all three WHO candidates before writing this article. Unfortunately I did not receive responses from any of them.

Impact on EU Track ad Trace

The FCTC is of relevance in the greater context of my blogging as it explicitly states in article 8.12 that “Obligations assigned to a Party shall not be performed by or delegated to the tobacco industry.” This by extension extends to Inexto which was born out of the tobacco industry created technology called Codentify. Today Inexto’s core product remains the Codentify system and its senior staff are all those who created Codentify for big tobacco.

The WHO is the premiere body on which several EU member states have chosen to base their operating practices on. It is thus of critical importance that the WHO’s director general not just be divorced of tobacco industry ties but have a clearly demonstrable past of fighting the industry as a whole in the name of a healthier future.

We must insure that whoever becomes the WHO’s director general will proper carry out the FCTC and fight to exclude Inexto as a track and trace option in Europe.