GENEVA – Tom Price brought honey and sharp words to a Tuesday afternoon event that focused on priorities for the next Director-General of the WHO.
Attending his first World Health Assembly, the Secretary of the US Health and Human Services startled some in the audience by opening with a ringing endorsement of the WHO and its mission.
“The US strongly, strongly supports the WHO. Together we’re working to combat diseases and to ensure the highest attainable level of health for all people,” Price told attendees of the event sponsored by Management Sciences for Health, Harvard Global Health Institute, Global Health Council and others.
However, Price said, it’s only a matter of time until a new health emergency emerges so the world needs to make sure that the WHO is up to the task. To that end, he spelled out 5 main US priorities for the new DG (who was scheduled to be elected by Tuesday evening) to take on at the WHO.
1. The new DG must reinforce the post-Ebola efforts that “try to ensure that public health decisions will be made based on science insulated from politics,” Price said, drawing scattered snickers from audience members who doubt the Trump administration’s belief in science.
2. The new DG must make WHO more “effective, accountable and transparent,” he said. “The WHO must be transparent in how its resources are being spent and whether and what results are being achieved,” he said.
3. The WHO human resource system needs to be updated so that it attracts the best, highest-qualified people. The goal should be to have flexible systems that can bring technical staff to quickly arrive at solutions before returning to their home country. “A short-term contract at WHO should not become a guarantee of lifetime employment there,” Price said.
4. Eliminating polio should remain a high priority especially because the goal is within reach, he said. “If we succeed, it will be a remarkable historic win for global health; if we fail, the repercussions will be significant especially since we are agonizingly close to our objective with just a few dozen cases reported each year.”
5. The WHO must focus on its core mission and what it can do well, and not engage in peripheral activities.
After delivering the pointed US positions on WHO’s future, Price brought back the honey for his closing words: “We look forward to working with the new Director-General on these priorities and to achieving our common goal of a world that is fully prepared to emerging threats to global health.”
Price received warm applause for his 6-minute speech from the audience of more than 100 people at the Geneva Press Club. The event was sponsored by Management Sciences for Health, Harvard Global Health Institute, Global Health Council and others.
Ed. Note: See all of GHN’s #WHA70 coverage here.
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