About WHO

Welcome from WHO Director-General

May 2014

The world depends on WHO to keep a close watch over the constantly changing microbial world and sound the alarm when needed.

Portrait of Director General, WHO

The confirmation of an outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Guinea earlier this year brought to 4, the number of severe emerging viruses that are currently circulating, including the H5N1 and H7N9 avian influenza viruses and the Middle-East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, coronavirus. The recent upswing in the number of MERS cases shows how quickly a previously stable situation can change.

WHO’s leadership role in outbreak alert and response is well known. WHO also administers the International Health Regulations, which were significantly strengthening following the SARS outbreak of 2003. The Regulations bring rules-based order to the procedures of disease detection, reporting, and containment, with clearly defined obligations and timeframes. The objective is to proactively detect and stop outbreaks at their source, before they have a chance to spread internationally. The absence of fundamental capacities to do so in several countries is the greatest barrier to reaching this objective. WHO leadership is needed here as well.

One of the objectives of WHO reform is to give this Organization the flexibility it needs to respond quickly to evolving situations. The volatile microbial world is certain to provide many challenges in the future.

The debate about the post-2015 development agenda continues. I have no doubt that the health-related Millennium Development Goals will be given a second life in this agenda. Niger’s success story, as summarized in this issue, shows how any country, no matter how poor, can achieve dramatic health gains if it really wants to.