Tedros announces WHO senior leadership team

SWITZERLAND —WHO’s Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has announced the “interim” appointment of five new senior leaders to replace outgoing members of his senior team, whose departure was announced internally just last week, Health Policy Watch reports.

The new appointments were also revealed in a second internal email sent by Tedros to WHO staff on Wednesday, and seen by Health Policy Watch.

Strikingly all of the new appointees have been drawn from within WHO’s internal ranks – a significant departure from Tedros’ previous pattern of making high-profile appointments of professionals drawn largely from outside WHO’s direct ranks, when he first took office in 2017, and during the last major shakeup in 2019.

In contrast, the five new appointees are longstanding WHO directors and known quantities. 

Notably, however, all of the appointees have been named as “interim” heads of WHO’s major divisions – leaving questions over whether Tedros still intends to eventually replace them with other, outside, candidates, or to merely test the performance of the acting leaders, more thoroughly, prior to deciding whether to make the appointments permanent.

Additionally, no replacements were announced at all for three outgoing staff members. That may be a signal that Tedros was finally bending to pressures from donor states, including the United States, to cut unnecessary frills at WHO’s top echelons where the salary and pension benefits of one senior staff can effectively pay for two mid-level professionals.

Critics had accused the DG of making excessive appointments of senior advisors and aids with vague and poorly defined jobs – outside of the organization’s key disease theme and activity areas.

No public announcements by Tedros

So far, however, Tedros has not made any public announcements about the staff changes – only communicated through internal staff emails. 

Outside speculation was that he might wait until January’s WHO’s Executive Board meeting to communicate his long-term intentions more fully.  

At the end of November, several senior leadership team members will depart the Organization, and once again, I reiterate my thanks for their contribution to WHO.”

I have asked several colleagues to serve, in ad interim, as heads of divisions while keeping their portfolios.  I have also requested Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab to delay her retirement date and continue as DDG [deputy director general] and OIC WPRO for some more time,” Tedros said in the mail. Jakab, born in 1951, is now 71 years old.

The key new appointments confirm reports earlier this week of pending staff changes. They include:

Dr. John Reeder, Director of TDR, the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, will be the acting head of the WHO Science Division, replacing the outgoing Soumya Swaminathan.

Dr. Hanan H. Balkhy, currently Assistant Director-General, Antimicrobial Resistance, will also lead the Division of Access to Medicines and Health Products, replacing Mariangela Simão, a Brazilian national.

Dr. Tereza Kasaeva, Director, Global Tuberculosis Programme, will lead the Division of Universal Health Coverage/Communicable and Noncommunicable Diseases, replacing the outgoing Ren Mingui, a Chinese national.

In addition, Dr. Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, was appointed as acting head of the Division of Universal Health Coverage/Healthier Populations, replacing the outgoing Naoko Yamamoto, a Japanese national.

Dr. Anshu Banerjee, Director, Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent and Aging, was appointed as acting head of the Division of Universal Health Coverage/Life Course – a role which until now had been held by Jakab as DDG.

Doubling up on other appointments

In several other cases, meanwhile, the DG has asked other senior staff to take on tasks held by outgoing leaders – effectively saving their salaries for the moment at least.  Among those appointments include: 

Dr. Bruce Aylward, Senior Adviser for Organizational Change and coordinator of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, was appointed, as acting leader of the Division of External Relations and Governance, a position held by the outgoing Jane Ellison, a former UK health minister.

In the Health Emergencies, Preparedness and Response (WHE) team, no new appointment was made to replace the outgoing Dr. Jaouard Mahjour, Assistant Director General for Emergency Preparedness.

Instead, “the directors in the Division of Emergency Preparedness will report to Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director, WHE, upon the incumbent’s retirement. The directors in the Division of Emergency Response will also report to Dr. Mike Ryan,” Tedros’ message to staff stated.

Similarly, Tedros said that work on cervical cancer, “will become part of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases reporting to Dr. Bente Mikkelsen.” 

Cervical cancer was one of the key tasks in the portfolio of South Africa’s outgoing DGO Special Advisor, Dr. Princess Nothemba Simelela, along with gender, equity, health rights, and youth (GER/DEI). 

The gender equity and health rights work, Tedros stated, “will remain in DGO,” without specifying a replacement. 

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