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WHO Prepares to Elect Its Next Leader Behind Closed Doors


The World Health Organization’s member countries will make their choice from three candidates, a short list that was winnowed down from six people who originally sought the job.

Representatives of countries from around the globe will get down to the task of electing the next leader of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday (May 22).

Here at STAT, we’re not making any bold prognostications on who will be selected to take over the helm of the global health agency from outgoing Director-General Margaret Chan, who has served two terms and cannot run again. The only prediction we feel relatively safe making is that in the halls of the WHO’s Geneva headquarters, Tuesday may be a very long day.

This election — the first time the WHO’s entire membership will be involved in selecting a director-general — involves secret balloting. Few if any countries have tipped their hands about how they are casting their votes.

“I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s clear which way the race is going to go. Not from my perspective,” Suerie Moon, director of research at the global health center of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, said of the race.

Previously WHO’s executive board — a rotating committee of 34 member countries, serving three-year terms — chose the director-general and sent its selection to the entire WHO membership for rubber-stamping. Many observers welcome the shift to the all-member vote. But some wish the changes had gone further.