|AN UPDATE: WHO WILL TAKE CHARGE OF W.H.O.
Most people don't even know that the World Health Organization (WHO) is part of the
United Nations system. Together with the International Labour Office (ILO), the
Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), UNESCO, and the World Bank Group, they are
the big five in the galaxy of over thirty programmes, funds and agencies that meet regularly
to co-ordinate their work in the field. They are not exactly like the big five
members of the Security Council, but internally they seem to carry similar weight.
In dealing with their executive directors, the Secretary-General treads softly; they
have their own governing bodies drawing their own priorities. That is partly why
there is special interest in who will take over from Dr. Gru Brundtland, current head of WHO
and former Prime Minister of Norway, when she leaves early this year.
By now, there are nine official candidates with no clear front runner, eight from
the developing countries and one, Peter Piot who heads the UNAIDS programme, from
Belgium. As the incumbent and several of her predecessors came from industrial nations, some feel
it may be about time to rotate to the third world. However, the most
senior official amongst them is the Prime Minister of Mozambique, Pascoal Manuel
Mocumbi, who seems to have a good chance. The Senegalese Health Minister could be
counted out since a compatriot of his is already heading FAO in Rome.
Another African, "Sir" Djamil Fereed of Mauritius, must be joking or bargaining;
he is presented as an "adviser" to his country's health minister -- a surely daunting
task in that idyllic island but not a serious qualification to oversee international
health. The chances of Dr. Joseph Williams of Cook Islands -- a former Australian
colony -- are slightly better, but not by much. South Korean Dr. Jong Wook Lee who
heads the WHO programme against tuberculosis has done a credible job in his field, but
is perceived mainly as a technician; besides another Far East Asian, a Japanese,
heads UNESCO in Paris.
The Arab group is embarrassingly caught between two competitors: a former Egyptian
health minister who had left his post under a cloud of media accusations and Lebanese Tourism Minister, former
Health Minister Karam Karam, a distinguished medical doctor who is well known
in Beirut and Damascus, but does not seem to have a visibly ongoing campaign. With only
six weeks to go, it is regrettable that someone so professionally and politically
qualified should be plunged into an international competition without serious
organisation or adequate preparation. The first step could have been to obtain the
endorsement of the Arab League as the Egyptian candidate has no chance whatsoever; not
only is he handicapped by a negative reputation, but there is already another Egyptian
who heads an international agency -- Dr. Mohammed El-Baradei, Executive Director of the International
Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
There remains Dr. Julius Frank, Mexico's Health
Minister. In addition to his medical background, he could be greatly helped through
personal phone calls from President Vincente Fox to a very influential
"ronchero" in nearby Texas. His country's membership in the Security Council where its vote is crucial
could bring him key support. Although another Latino from Chile heads ILO in Geneva, a suitable
arrangement -- if he is favoured by the powers that be -- is to designate Mexico in
precise geographical terms: that is, as part of Central America and the Caribbean.
Otherwise, Monsieur Piot, supported by Brussels is wisely and patiently waiting in the
There is, however, a yet undisclosed scenario which is likely to unfold as the Executive Board
prepares to meet later in January. In the absence of an overwhelming candidate, the name of a
prominent French Doctor with proven international experience will be introduced. That particular
candidate has served in previous governments, participated in U.N. assignments and co-founded a
successful international initiative in field medical assistance. French diplomats are
experienced in U.N. electoral tactics. Being considerate of the sensitivities of the third world --
and ensure future votes -- the name was not presented earlier. But with a looming deadline a demarche
will be appropriately timed.
France has no one in such a senior posting since Michel Camdesus left as head of the
International Monetary Fund and recently took over the dossier of an initiative by the French President
to help in Lebanon's financial crisis. That may partially explain a lackluster approach, particularly
by the Lebanese Prime Minister to the candidacy of his governmental colleague. Dr. Karam's limited
prospects may be one of the collaterals of Paris II. Thus, President Chirac would add another
feather to his resourceful cap by regaining a senior key post for France and magnanimously placing in it
a media-oriented activist politically linked to another party. If he succeeds, the restless doctor
would finally find his right niche in his own medical field -- provided he quits smoking.