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Lessons for Kenya from WHO boss election

Voters queue to casts their ballot at Namakhele Primary School in Kabuchai, Bungoma County on December 19, 2013. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Voters queue to casts their ballot at Namakhele Primary School in Kabuchai, Bungoma County on December 19, 2013. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

On 23rd May, a new director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) was elected. The election, which has been described by many as very transparent, was done through a vote by the member states unlike in past elections.

Customarily, the election of the director was decided by the executive board of the WHO, comprising 34 personalities nominated by member states on a three-year contract.

This year, however, the election of the director-general was done differently with the board shortlisting three candidates out of the six that had submitted applications for the position, and then subjecting them to interviews and campaigns and finally an election through secret ballot by member states.

The election of the new director-general followed a rigorous process. First, the names of the candidates for the position nominated by member states were announced on September 23, 2016 which was then followed by having the candidates interact in a password protected web forum hosted by WHO in October.

All the candidates then presented their vision to member states after which they answered questions on their vision.

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Lastly, a shortlist of five candidates by the executive board who then selected three nominees who were finally forwarded to world assembly in May 2017 for elections.

The three top contenders were Ethiopia’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Pakistan’s Sania Nishtar and UK’s David Nabarro. In the end, it is Dr Tedros who emerged victorious and will from July 1 take over from Hong Kong’s Margaret Chan.

The election of Dr. Tedros was historic and was received with joy because unlike his predecessors, he was the first African to head the UN agency. He has dedicated his life to improving healthcare.

Dr Tedros was Ethiopian health minister between 2005 -2012, and according to Lancet, the leading healthcare publisher, he ran a successful programme that reduced maternal and neonatal mortalities by 43 per cent and 38 per cent respectively and also halved TB prevalence.

So what can Kenya learn from his election? First during the campaign, all the candidates had websites that were government sponsored and had a PDF version of all the activities that the candidate had engaged in right from the start of 2016, the time period, venue, the funding sources and the cost of each activity.

All the candidates had this well listed and for all of them, their respective governments were the core funders. This is unlike the election of chairperson of the African Union for which Kenya sponsored a candidate.

After the election, which she lost, there was a public outcry that Kenya had spent significant amount of funds campaigning for her without accounting for the funds or even making the breakdown public.

Accountability is the single most important attribute of leadership and it helps in gaining public confidence in the government.

Therefore, this is an element that the government can improve on. Secondly, the new WHO leadership has, on top of its agenda, Universal Health Coverage which means that every individual should seek health care services of sufficient quality without being exposed to financial hardship.

Kenya should finalise and implement the health financial strategy that has taken years to develop. It is aimed at ensuring equitable distribution of health finances and empowering the proposed NHIF.

We also need to spend money in improving the motivation and satisfaction of healthcare workers.

Thirdly, it is imperative to deploy qualified individuals to manage the Ministry of Health. People who have the abilities and the passion to run the ministry and who are not swayed by money.

Experience should play a critical role in choosing the leaders and they should own a vision of programmes that will transform the ministry.

Recently, the Ministry of Health has been in the limelight for all the bad reasons: mega scandals, workers strikes and no one has shouldered responsibility.

In order to be potential future candidates for such global organisations such as WHO and UN, Kenya needs to get it right in choosing the right candidates for different ministries, choosing performance over friendship and politics.

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