The World Health Organization's next director-general will inherit an ailing institution with funding problems — and a bad reputation for how it's handled global health emergencies.
The three finalists for the top spot are Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, David Nabarro and Sania Nishtar. WHO's executive board selected them yesterday from a group of six candidates. On Thursday, they introduced themselves in a press briefing from WHO's headquarters in Geneva.
"Somebody once said: If you want to know what a person is going to do in the future, all you have to do is look into their past life," said Nishtar at the briefing.
And that's what the candidates did in their comments — look at their past life.
Here's a brief snapshot of what each finalist had to say. From now until May, when the WHO's 194 member-states meet for the World Health Assembly, the finalists will campaign for the position. The new head starts on July 1, succeeding Dr. Margaret Chan.
Sania Nishtar, Pakistan: "I know what I don't know"
A cardiologist based in Islamabad, Nishtar is the co-chair of WHO's commission on ending childhood obesity. She's also the founder and president of Heartfile, a thinktank that focuses on public health in Pakistan.
She's not afraid to admit when she doesn't know something. At the press conference, she told how WHO's executive board had asked her: What is your biggest strength?
Here's her answer: "I know what I don't know. I have no ego issues. I have no problems admitting to you that this is an answer to a question that I do not know. But I am fully committed to making sure that I have the right answer."
David Nabarro, United Kingdom: "I [understand] what it's like to be a doctor in an isolated community"
Nabarro, a physician and a 40-year veteran of public health, has held leadership positions at the U.N. and WHO. His specialty is stopping the spread of disease, and he's tackled cholera and Ebola, among others. Being director-general of WHO is "a job I've been training for for the whole of my life," he said in the briefing.
The decades he spent in the field in regions like the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa made him understand "what it's like to be a doctor in an isolated community ... struggling to find the medicines you need to save lives."
"I saw death, sadness, disability in ways you don't see when you're in Europe and North America," he said. "You realize how sickness and development are closely linked."
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia: "I got results"
Currently the Ethiopian minister of foreign affairs, Ghebreyesus was previously the country's minister of health. He's the only candidate who is not a medical doctor; he has a Ph.D. in community health.
In today's briefing, Ghebreyesus rattled off numbers to make his case. As Ethiopia's health minister, he says he cut maternal mortality by 71 percent, HIV/AIDS deaths by 90 percent and malaria deaths by 75 percent. "I implemented the reform and I got results," he said. "I did that in Ethiopia and if I could get a chance to lead this organization, I could help countries implement reform in a comprehensive way. That's what sets me apart from the others."