According to Time Magazine’s Christine Gorman, China and Japan are trying to bribe the voters who will decide the next W.H.O. president. It’s disgusting that an organization which can be critical in saving lives and combatting infectious disease can be so easily corrupted. Gorman writes:
It’s been an open secret for years that the race for Director-General at the World Health Organization is subject to a lot of horse-trading among the so-called member states of the United Nations. But this year’s election-in which there are now 13 candidates-is shaping up to be the most unseemly to date.
Rumors of bridges and clinics and even Rolex watches being traded for votes in the November election are everywhere. Much of the talk centers around regional rivals China and Japan, who have put forward Dr. Margaret Chan and Dr. Shigeru Omi, respectively, for the post.
The Lancet published today an exasperated plea for sanity in the selection process (free registration required). By comparing the technical and administrative credentials of the candidates, the prestigious medical journal has concluded that there is really only one person who should be the front-runner for the position, Dr. Julio Frenk, the health minister of Mexico.
“Other people may disagree with that analysis,” Lancet Editor Richard Horton said in a phone interview. “I would be very happy to hear that-provided they focus on the technical and administrative qualifications of the candidates.”
Part of the problem is the lack of transparency in the election. The choice is determined by the 34 countries of the W.H.O.’s executive board in a secret ballot. So candidates who are backed by powerful countries have a leg up because their sponsors can offer all kinds of secret deals to the poorer nations on the executive board.
We simply can’t afford this kind of business-as-usual approach to choosing the head of the W.H.O. There are too many international health crises-from the ongoing AIDS pandemic to possibility of pandemic flu-that need to be dealt with. If the international community perceives that the top job at W.H.O. was bought, then countries are going to lose their trust in the agency and its work and donors are simply going to stop funding W.H.O.’s programs.
She’s absolutely correct, but she missed one point: this will undermine the credibility of W.H.O. president, which is important when trying to persuade countries–and their publics–to follow certain actions. Next, they’ll be sending dirty IM messages to….oh, sorry, wrong corruption scandal.
Addendum: A colleague informs me that Nakajima got his (disastrous) post at W.H.O. the same way. Malawi alone got about 30 Land Ccruisers for their vote…