Closing Argument: WHO DG Candidate Sania Nishtar’s Q&A, Part IV

Sania Nishtar speaking after receiving the Global Innovation Award
Image credit
Sania Nishtar speaking after receiving the Global Innovation Award in 2011. Image Courtesy of Sania NIshtar

In the final part of GHN’s Q&A with her, Sania Nishtar makes her closing argument for why she should be WHO’s next Director-General. Nishtar emphasizes her history working in Pakistan’s government as a federal health minister, her ability to “speak truth to power,” her experience founding a civil society organization and her record of integrity and transparency.


To wrap things up, could you make your case for why should countries select you as WHO’s next Director General?
First of all, is the breadth and diversity of my experience. I combine public sector and civil society experience, medical as well as research background, deep multilateral and grassroots experience. I also have experience both in policy advocacy as well as have demonstrated systems leadership. In each of these roles, I have delivered results with integrity and transparency in some of the most difficult and resource constrained settings.

Second, I have consistently practiced attributes which deeply matter for reforming WHO and reclaiming its primacy and ensuring that it has the world’s trust as its lead health agency. When I was a Federal Minister, I set a precedent in transparency by making public my Handover Papers. I was the first [DG] candidate to declare that I would make the financing of my campaign public.

I felt privileged to chair the UN’s Independent Accountability Panel for the global strategy on women and children’s health. I believe transparency and accountability must be the core tenets of organizational functioning. It won’t come to you as a surprise that I have placed it number 1 on my list of Ten Pledges.

Third, I have the ability to lead on hard issues in ways that are constructive and sustainable. As you know, WHO needs to play many political roles. As a member state-governed body, its Secretariat’s role is to implement policy but then it also has an independent role as the global guardian of health. With my history and reputation and ability to speak truth to power, constructively and sustainably, I believe I can strike this delicate balance perfectly.

In the fourth place, with great humility, I would like to say that my ability to turn around reform, exercise systems leadership and embrace and lead on innovation would be invaluable for WHO. As Minister in a country of 200 million people, I turned around the most difficult reform, which involved the Ministry of Health’s re-creation in the shortest possible time after it was abolished as a result of a constitutional amendment. Heartfile Health Financing, the project I established as one of several civil society roles, has been labeled as the “ of health care” because of [its] new ways of organizing people, processes and resources to achieve greater scale.

In my role as co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Health and Healthcare… I have experience with the entire spectrum, from innovations to system building to a deep understanding of the importance of creating regulatory frameworks to keep pace with the innovations.

Fifth, my experience in noncommunicable diseases and expertise in health systems matters in ushering in a new era of [the Sustainable Development Goals], centered on technically supporting countries. From writing country plans to co-chairing a WHO commission, I am familiar with the full spectrum of multilateral roles relating to NCDs and health systems. As someone who has described the mixed health systems syndrome and written [the book] Choked Pipes, I am deeply familiar with the central systemic constraints which hamper countries abilities to deliver on goals as well as the needed policy changes.

Sixth, I have both the experience of forging multisectorial and intersectorial collaborations. As Minister, I was tasked with multisector responsibility (education, IT, science and technology, in addition to health) and as advisor to the Ministry of Finance and the Planning Commission, I have an innate ability to think and plan multisectorally. In my [2014] Lancet paper, I made a strong call for specific institutional changes to forge multi-sectorial collaboration. I [also] have experience in forging intersectorial collaboration and successfully and ethically managing public private engagement with transparency and integrity. In my work co-chairing the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, I was able to constructively engage the private sector while implementing all safeguards.

Seventh, I have hands on experience with management having established organizations from scratch. Value for money and priority setting are buzzwords for candidates but unless you have successfully built institutions and delivered results in resource-constrained environments, it is difficult to appreciate their value and practice them.

That’s quite a list. Any last thoughts?
I have worked with and led people from every region of the world from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and have been able to convene widely diverse constituencies, build bridges across different cultural, social, economic and political perspectives. It goes without saying that with my developing country background and proven pro-poor record, I am well-placed to represent the views of, and be responsive to, the needs of the underprivileged. In a nutshell, I can play both the technical and political roles effectively. 


Read other installments of Global Health NOW’s 4-part Q&A with Sania Nishtar here

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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