Half of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) leadership team of 16 at its Geneva headquarters will leave the global organization at the end of November, including senior scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan and Dr. Mariângela Simão, Deputy Director General for Access to Medicines and Healthcare Products.
Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyusus announced the departure of the eight senior staff members in a brief email to staff on Tuesday, thanking them for their service.
Despite the muted internal announcement, this is the largest single leadership change Tedros has made since 2019, two years after taking office when he made a series of sweeping changes as part of his “transformation” agenda for the organization. The move has been awaited for months by Geneva insiders, who say the chief executive has been looking to transform his team since being re-elected for a second term. Further, Tedros was urged by big donors to streamline his leadership team, which was unprecedentedly large and, some have said, top-heavy.
Although Tedros said the officers are all leaving because their appointments are expiring, he has apparently opted not to renew the appointments of a number of those who have not yet reached retirement age and were available.
Tedros said the departing staff “contributed to a significant and lasting transformation of the organization and helped steer WHO through a global pandemic that has devastated the health and well-being of the world and has had a profound and lasting impact on global public health.” “.
He thanked them, adding they had “made a real positive difference and their legacy is a strengthened, more agile, fairer and more resilient WHO”.
Health Policy Watch was first to report Swaminathan’s departure in early October, noting that Indian pediatrician Tedros’ leadership style may have been too independent.
Advocate for access to medicines
Swaminathan and Simão, who joined WHO through UNIAIDS, have always advocated for access to COVID-19 vaccines for low- and middle-income countries, often criticizing rich countries and pharmaceutical companies for their disability.
She was director of the Department of STDs, AIDS and Hepatitis at the Brazilian Ministry of Health from 2006 to 2010, where she led successful price negotiations with pharmaceutical companies to lower the price of HIV drugs.
dr Agnès Buzyn, the WHO Director-General’s representative for multilateral affairs, was recently appointed Executive Director of the WHO Academy in Lyon, and the former French health minister remains on the leadership team in her new role. Former French Ambassador for Global Health Stéphanie Seydoux has already been announced as her successor.
Who is out – and who is still in?
Jane Ellison, Executive Director for External Relations and Governance and former UK Health Secretary, is leaving WHO, as is Dr. Jaouard Mahjour, Deputy Director General for Emergency Preparedness and International Health Regulations. Mahjour has held various positions at the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean.
As previously reported, Dr. Ren Minghui, deputy director-general of universal health coverage and communicable and noncommunicable diseases, announced the exodus. Chinese national Minghui was previously director-general of international cooperation at the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China.
The South African Dr. Princess Nothemba Simelela, Deputy Director-General and Special Adviser on Strategic Priorities, who has worked on cervical cancer, is also leaving. Simelela was previously director of the South African HIV program.
Finally, the Japanese national Dr. Naoko Yamamoto, Deputy Director-General for Health Care and Healthier Populations, to resign.
The farewell of Deputy WHO Director Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, the 71-year-old Hungarian who is well past the WHO mandated retirement age of 65, is also likely to be imminent.
In addition, WHO’s chief nurse, Dr. Elizabeth Iro, and Min-Whee Kang, senior adviser in the GM’s office, both of whom are not part of the executive team.
survived dr. Mike Ryan, Dr. Samira Asma, Prof. Hanan Balkhy, Dr. Ibrahima Socé Fall, Raul Thomas and Special Counsels Bruce Aylward and Peter Singer, and Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, recently appointed head of the WHO pandemic and epidemic awareness hub, and Stewart Simonson, who heads the US office of WHO.
Aside from Seydoux, no successor has yet been named. However, given the pressure that member states, particularly the US, are putting on Tedros to cut costs, it’s possible he may also reduce the size of his team. WHO staff had also complained about the bloated management team, including the pattern of appointments for senior advisers who are housed in the Director-General’s office, have no responsibility for specific WHO areas and are paid excessive salaries.
From Kerry Cullinan in Health Policy Watch
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