News & Events

Global Health Leaders Identify Top Priority for Next WHO Director-General

CONTACT: Karen Teber / km463@georgetown.edu

WASHINGTON (October 13, 2016) --What should be the highest priority for the next World Health Organization Director-General in the face of mounting health challenges and a shortage of funding?

Global health leaders from across the world say “the answer lies within the [WHO’s] main constitutional pillar, the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of health.”

Writing in The Lancet Global Health published Oct. 13, the global health leaders from all corners of the world say the next WHO Director-General should make the human right to health their “highest priority,” with the Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH) as “the centerpiece of this endeavor.”

The FCGH is a proposed treaty that would be based in the right to health and aimed at national and global health equality.

The article comes as the campaigning for the next WHO Director-General gets underway, just days after the WHO announced the candidates for the upcoming election of the next head of the world’s health agency, which will take place in a two-step process next January and May.

The health leaders describe the FCGH as a tool that “would reform global governance for health to enhance accountability, transparency, and civil society participation and protect the right to health in trade, investment, climate change, and other international regimes.”

They write, “It would usher in a new era of global health with justice—vast improvements in health outcomes, equitably distributed.”

Lawrence Gostin, of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, says the proposed global health treaty, “is founded in the recognition that global health justice today requires global cooperation.” Yet, he says, “Systems for global cooperation today are deeply deficient, from inadequate funding and accountability to other international regimes undercutting health. For example, agreements on trade and intellectual property impede access to essential vaccines and medicines.”

“Meanwhile, extreme marginalization and health disparities within countries persists, often leaving poor and excluded populations with far worse health outcomes than their better off neighbors,” Gostin says.

The Lancet Global Health article further explains how the FCGH could advance health accountability, including through national health accountability strategies and a global health accountability framework.

The authors say the treaty could enhance equity, including through “standards on disaggregated data, non-discrimination, equitable resource distribution, and pro-poor pathways to meet health targets.” And it could improve global governance for health, including through a domestic and global health financing framework, which would for the first time set health finance benchmarks for all countries, and right to health impact assessments and public participation to ensure that international agreements respect the right to health.

The authors also emphasize the responsibility of all sectors for the right to health.

The health leaders point to another reason that the next WHO Director-General should prioritize the FCGH, observing that the “FCGH would reinvigorate WHO’s global health leadership,” and “become the platform for reforming WHO as a rights-based 21st century institution, with badly-needed reforms, such as community participation, new priorities favouring social determinants of health, and a culture of transparency and accountability.”

In addition to Gostin, other authors of the article include Eric A. Friedman, JD, O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University Law Center; Paulo Buss, MD, MPH, FIOCRUZ Center for Global Health, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, National Academy of Science, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Mushtaque Chowdhury, MSc, PhD, BRAC, Dhaka, Bangladesh, James P. Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh; Anand Grover, BSc, LLB, Lawyers Collective, New Delhi, India; Mark Heywood, SECTION27, Johannesburg, South Africa; Churnrurtai Kanchanachitra, PhD, Institute for Population and Social Research, Mahidol University, Phuthamonthon, Thailand; Gabriel Leung, MD, MPH, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China; Judith Mackay, MB ChB, Vital Strategies, Hong Kong Office, China, Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control, Hong Kong, China; Precious Matsoso, BPharm, LLM, National Department of Health, Pretoria, South Africa; Sigrun Møgedal, MD, Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services, Oslo, Norway; Joia S. Mukherjee, MD, MPH,  Partners In Health, Boston, MA, USA, Division of Global Health Equity, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA, USA, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA; Francis Omaswa, MB ChB, MMed, FRCS, African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation, Kampala, Uganda; Joy Phumaphi, MSc, African Leaders Malaria Alliance, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania; K. Srinath Reddy, MD, DM, MSc, Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, India; Mirta Roses Periago, MD, MPH, Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Oyewale Tomori, DVM, PhD, Nigerian Academy of Science, Lagos, Nigeria; Miriam Were, MB ChB, MPH, Dr PH. Moi University, Kenya; and Debrework Zewdie, PhD, CUNY School of Public Health and Public Policy, New York, NY, USA.

Letter in support of FCGH
Complementing the article in Lancet Global Health, a letter to the WHO Director-General nominees in support of the FCGH has been signed by many of the Lancet authors and others global health experts, including Paul Farmer, of Partners In Health and Harvard University.

Dozens of leading global and regional health, humanitarian, and human rights organizations also joined the letter. These include Action for Global Health (a European network), AMREF Health, the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, BRAC (the world’s largest NGO), CARE International, the Global Health Council, Handicap International, the Helen Keller Foundation, the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations, the International Network of Women Against Tobacco, the International Rescue Committee, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, Oxfam International, REPOAC (Network of West and Central African NGO National Platforms), WaterAid, and the World Federation of Public Health Associations. Demonstrating local support for the FCGH, major national health and human rights organizations, including from countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, also endorsed the letter.

The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University is the premier center for health law, scholarship, and policy. Its mission is to contribute to a more powerful and deeper understanding of the multiple ways in which law can be used to improve the public’s health, using objective evidence as a measure. The O’Neill Institute seeks to advance scholarship, science, research, and teaching that will encourage key decision-makers in the public, private, and civil society to employ the law as a positive tool for enabling more people in the United States and throughout the world to lead healthier lives. 

###