Summary of address to all WHO staff by Anders Nordström, Acting Director-General

8 June 2006


I welcome all WHO staff members joining this briefing and discussion. Five regional offices as well as some country offices are linked today.

The Organization is still in a state of shock. There is a strong sense of loss. This meeting is a chance to reflect on JW Lee, starting with the tribute video that was shared with the Executive Board last week, and hearing from Ian Smith about the state funeral in Korea. Bill Kean will describe the outcome of the World Health Assembly and outline the process for the election for the new Director-General. I will then share with you some of our priorities for the months to come and what we need to focus on in our work.

JW Lee was not a traditional kind of UN leader. He was a modest man who empowered his team and his staff to do the work through a sophisticated kind of leadership. He kept us accountable and made sure we delivered. I am grateful for what I have learnt from him.

The Performance assessment report for 2004 and 2005, shows clearly what was achieved and delivered by you all. Weaknesses remain: there is much still to improve. However, overall the achievements are quite amazing in the last three years; everything from negotiating treaties, delivering on the ground, getting advocacy messages out, to turning the world around in terms of access to treatment. Voluntary contributions to the Organization increased by 61% in the last biennium.

Thousands of letters of condolences and personal messages have been received from all over the world. These are very well appreciated both by the team in WHO and by the family. Thanks should be conveyed to all those who have given this support.

Despite the massive challenge, the World Health Assembly and Executive Board were able to continue their work, thanks to strong support from Member States and all parts of the Organization.

I will now be with you in this capacity for the next six to seven months. A lot needs to be done during this period. First, my personal thanks for the support. This has been a difficult time and a very special situation.

Over the next six months the spirit and theme will be: "continuity and progress".

Three priorities for the coming months:

  • To maintain the momentum and direction in our technical work;
  • To manage the election process in as efficient and transparent a manner as possible;
  • To continue work on management reforms.
1. Maintaining momentum and direction in technical work

The key theme of the Health Assembly and Executive Board outcomes is that we have the green light for implementation in many areas. Our job now is to take this forward.

  • One of the first actions is to move ahead with the Eleventh General Programme of Work. The global agenda is agreed, and WHO's core functions described. This will be extremely important in terms of positioning the Organization within the wider context of the UN; preparing for the Programme Budget for 2008-2009 and the Medium-term Strategic Plan.
  • International Health Regulations (2005). Early voluntary compliance was approved by the Health Assembly. A key priority is to engage in this with countries, build capacity, and raise the resources needed.
  • Polio needs to be finished. We are not slowing down efforts to eradicate polio.
  • The strategy on sexually transmitted diseases was approved by the Health Assembly and must be put into action. Work with partners is central to this. Next week we will discuss with Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, how we can coordinate even more closely in the field with them and others to translate the strategy into practice.
  • The resolution and the Report of the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health were approved by the Health Assembly. We need to start to discuss how to implement the plan of action, and what in house capacity is needed.
  • Yesterday I was in Paris with representatives from the French, Norwegian, Brazilian, Chilean governments to see how a new initiative for funds raised by an airline tax can increase support for HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. Translating the five-year strategic plan for HIV towards universal access into practice is now a top priority. Again, the practical aspects are important. We have resources in the country offices who will be key to taking the strategy forward. We must continue the advocacy work started by JW Lee on HIV prevention, treatment and care. For example, last week, WHO was represented in New York at the UN General Assembly Special Session on AIDS.
  • There is a lot of work to be done in strengthening health systems. We need to start delivering what we talk about in The world health report 2006 and building on the launch of the Health Workforce Alliance. There were important discussions by the Executive Board around health information systems relating to the Millennium Development Goals and the Health Metrics Network. We need to clarify and demystify how health systems link usefully to health intervention programmes.
  • The Executive Board's approval of the Strategic resource allocation and validation mechanism now allows us to have a true results-based system, with a very strong validation system, so that we can focus on countries in most need.

Highlights of important work before us

  • Following the launch of the Partnership on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, implementation will be crucial. More progress must be made in reducing maternal deaths. Key appointments have been made in this area: The Partnership is under the leadership of Francis Songane, former Minister of Health of Mozambique. Joy Phumaphi is newly the Representative of the Director-General for Gender Equality, taking forward work on a gender strategy for the Organization.
  • Malaria. A lot of attention is being paid to this issue by governments, the World Bank, and the rest of the UN system. We need to do even better on the ground and engage with the broader Roll Back Malaria partnership.
  • The Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) is also under review. There will be a report to the TDR Standing Committee. It will be very important for us to engage and involve ourselves in the future of TDR.
  • WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Its entry into force last year was a landmark achievement. The Secretariat to support the Conference of the Parties will be functioning shortly.
  • The launch of the report Preventing chronic diseases: a vital investment has been important. We have to make sure this moves beyond the report to become a reality in countries and member states, with the overall direction being incorporated into country strategies.
  • Work continues on health and security, the subject of The world health report 2007. A team is working on this and a first draft will be ready by year-end.

Building a functional team

There is a great deal of work that must continue and be taken forward now. A top priority is to increase functionality across the Organization. There is a lot to do in all our offices, including the areas of work focal point network, and making sure that joint planning and implementation is happening in practice.

2. Managing the election process

A review has been made by Bill Kean of the process for the next six months. The main responsibility is to ensure that the process is robust, transparent, clear and efficient. My advice to staff is: do not get involved; do not become distracted from the important work on the table; and maintain the integrity of the Organization.

I am not a candidate for Director-General, nor for the Global Fund. I plan to return to my GMG team and continue my work on management reform.

3. Continuing management reforms
  • Our priorities in this area are to take forward WHO's role and position within broader UN reform. Last weekend the High Level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence consulted with the Geneva-based UN agencies. We conveyed 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.
  • Work on the six-year Medium Term Strategic Plan 2006- 2013 and Programme Budget 2007-2008 will continue. The draft will be submitted to the regional committees for discussion. The finalized proposal will be submitted to the Executive Board in January and then to the Health Assembly.
  • Beyond monitoring financial resources, we need to look at resource mobilization in a more strategic and coordinated way. This will involve a framework of people working across the Organization in country offices and in headquarters. This may link with work on communication.
  • The Executive Board approved contract reform and changes to the staff rules. We now need to review the budget implications and practicalities of this. WHO has been able to do this before the rest of the UN. We should be proud to move forward with something important for both staff and management, which allows for a more streamlined system for employment.
  • Improvements in the internal justice system are another priority for the next six months. We have made an effort to have a better and more efficient system in place. There has been some progress: the Grievance Panel is operational but is not efficient enough. I commit to reviewing the processes to manage allegations of misconduct and harassment. I will see if we can rapidly put a more efficient system in place, following some good proposals that are available. The Director of Human Resources will take this forward with the Global Staff Management Council.
  • The Global Management System is a chance both to change the way we work, to get a supportive modern IT system, and to give better support to managing the organization.

In conclusion

I would like to thank you all again for your support. We all have much to be proud of. WHO is a very strong organization and we are delivering. We are not perfect and need to continue to improve how we function and deliver, and to get our priorities right.

In the next few months the Regional Committees will meet. I will go to all six. It is vitally important now, throughout the Organization, that we listen carefully to what Member States have to say, and engage with them.

Finally, in a special tribute to JW Lee, we have decided to name the Strategic Health Operations Centre "the JW Lee Centre for Strategic Health Operations" and to place his portrait in that room. This centre was one of his key priorities and vision. It is part of the Organization's vision. WHO needs to be able to provide information with integrity and impartiality. The core of being a normative organization is to able to provide reliable information to all parts of the world on a timely basis, to link with them and to respond in an efficient manner. The SHOC room is more than a symbol, it is part of the functionality and credibility of the Organization.