Continuity and progress at WHO
The Bulletin interview with Anders Nordström.
Anders Nordström received his MD from the Karolinska Institut in 1988 in his native Sweden. He worked in the field with the Swedish Red Cross in Cambodia and later, the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Islamic Republic of Iran. He worked for the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (SIDA) for 12 years from 1992 to 2003, including three years as Regional Adviser in Zambia and four years as head of the Health Division (1999-2003). During 2002, he established the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as Interim Executive Director. Nordström joined WHO as Assistant Director-General for General Management in July 2003 and was appointed Acting Director-General on 23 May by the WHO Executive Board until a successor to the late Director-General Dr LEE Jong-wook is elected in November.
Since Anders Nordström took up his post as Assistant Director-General for General Management, he has worked on strengthening transparency and accountability in the Organization, improving the budget and planning processes, and management of human resources. He was appointed Acting Director-General on 23 May at an extraordinary meeting of the WHO Executive Board. In his first meeting with journalists after his appointment, he joked that he was a “professional interim”, having already served an interim post at the Global Fund and at SIDA. In this interview with the Bulletin, he outlines his priorities for the next few months.
Q: Dr LEE Jong-wook served less than three years of his five-year term as Director-General. How would you assess his achievements during that short period of time?
A: JW Lee was not a traditional kind of UN leader. He was a modest man who empowered his team and his staff to do their work through a sophisticated kind of leadership. He gave us great freedom, but kept us accountable and made sure we delivered. I am grateful for what I have learned from him. Dr Lee was very proud of the fact that we increased our voluntary contributions to the Organization by 61% during the last biennium. This is a reflection of the trust governments have in the Organization and the importance people place on health issues. Some weaknesses remain, but overall our achievements over the last three years have been quite amazing: from negotiating treaties, through delivering on the ground and getting advocacy messages out, to turning the world around in terms of access to treatment.
Q: Will you be proposed as a candidate for the election of a new Director-General?
A: A: No. I am not a candidate for Director-General, nor for Executive Director of the Global Fund. After the election of a new Director-General, I hope to return to my General Management team and continue to work on management reform in WHO.
Q: What are your main priorities as Acting Director-General?
A: I will work in this capacity for the next six to seven months. A lot needs to be done during this period. The spirit and theme will be continuity and progress. My three priorities are: to maintain the momentum and direction in our technical work in order to benefit the health of people everywhere; to manage the election process for a new Director-General in as efficient and transparent a manner as possible; and to continue work on WHO management reforms. For example, I will push through our work to eradicate polio, I will ensure that our focus on health workers continue, and I will ensure that health systems work is better integrated with our other technical programmes. On management issues, I will oversee a more effective resource mobilization service, guide the Global Management System and ensure that key issues around internal justice, accountability and transparency are pursued.
Q: How do you intend to continue WHO’s technical work?
A: The World Health Assembly and Executive Board have given us the green light to take our work forward in many areas. One of the first things is to move ahead with implementing the Eleventh General Programme of Work. The global agenda for this is agreed, and WHO’s core functions have been clearly identified. This will be extremely important in terms of improving the health of all people and positioning the Organization within the wider context of the UN. We also need to push ahead with the International Health Regulations (2005) in terms of raising the resources needed to build capacity in countries to implement them.
Q: How will WHO take forward the resolution on intellectual property rights and health passed at this year’s World Health Assembly?
A: We have the Report of the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health and the Resolution, now we will start discussing how to implement a plan of action, and where in WHO this work should be housed.
Q: How will you continue Dr Lee’s work in the fight against HIV/AIDS?
A: Increasing the availability of HIV prevention, treatment and care to some of the poorest people on the planet is a key part of Dr Lee’s legacy, and I will be working hard to build on it through the 5-year strategic plan approved by the World Health Assembly. Recently I met representatives of the Brazilian, Chilean, French and Norwegian Governments to see how a new initiative for funds raised by an airline tax can increase support for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Translating the five-year strategic plan for HIV towards universal access into practice is now a top priority. We have resources in WHO country offices which will be key to taking that strategy forward. We must also continue the advocacy work started by JW Lee on HIV prevention, treatment and care.
Q: How are the management reforms progressing at the moment?
A: Our priorities in this area are to build on WHO’s role and position within the broader context of UN reform. Last month the High Level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence consulted with the Geneva-based UN agencies. We explained to them the nature of a specialized agency, which has independent functions but is still able to implement work at country level in a more integrated and coordinated way. We will now consult broadly throughout the Organization, especially with WHO Representatives and country offices to see how WHO can be more effective in the UN system. A paper will be developed for discussion by the Executive Board at its session in January 2007.