Dr David Nabarro
Our world is challenged by a changing climate, violent conflict, persistent poverty and mass migration. The benefits of globalization and new technologies remain unequally shared. As a result, people face an ever-growing avalanche of threats to their health. Dr David Nabarro has worked on such issues for over 40 years.
Dr Nabarro is one of the three candidates for the post of Director General (DG) of the World Health Organization (WHO) and paid a brief visit here on March 12 to seek Bangladesh’s support.
During his stay in Dhaka, he shared his thoughts with Dhaka Courier and UNB correspondent on the need for a robust, reliable and responsive World Health Organization.
He thinks lifestyle diseases, in medical term ‘non-communicable’ diseases, are becoming a ‘very serious challenge’ for the world, including Bangladesh.
“It’s very clear there’s a set of new diseases around called lifestyle diseases. This new wave of lifestyle diseases is a new challenge for the world, including Bangladesh,” said Dr Nabarro.
He mentioned diabetes, high blood pressure and chest and breathing problems due to smoking cigarettes as few examples of lifestyle diseases that are associated with the way a person or group of people lives.
The Member States (194 countries) will pick up new DG through voting at the World Health Assembly in May while the new DG will take office on July 1.
“If I become a DG of WHO I’ll be working to make sure WHO is good on all these issues (health challenges),” he said mentioning that the WHO, under his leadership, will be good on setting standards, responding to outbreaks, helping countries establish health system that works and good on dealing with non-communicable diseases.
Dr Nabarro who has been the special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change since January 2016, however, said it is not easy because WHO is not a rich organisation as it spends on average US$ 2 billion a year.
“As WHO DG, one of my challenges will be finding ways to be more effective with less money,” he said adding that there will be efforts to raise more money to do the things they want to do.
Dr Nabarro’s top priorities are to transform how WHO responds to disease outbreaks and health emergencies, how better WHO can help member states dealing with non-communicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes and to increase efforts to ensure that people, especially women and children, get the healthcare they need.
He pledged that he will make sure that everything is done transparently, especially in terms of spending money. “WHO under my direction will be a fully transparent organisation making everyone accessible to facts through website.”
Asked about Bangladesh’s support, Dr Nabarro who wants women in senior positions said, “We’ve no knowledge of Bangladesh’s position.”
“I love this country. I worked here in 1982 (Save the Children). Many great things are done here (on health issues). I’m really keen to encourage Bangladesh vote for me. If Bangladesh supports me, others will pay attention,” he added.
Responding to a question, Dr Nabarro said he is here in Bangladesh as part of his global campaign, and he has a plan to visit a total of 47 countries. “I describe myself as a person who worked 40 years in public health. I also handled a range of very complicated health issues for the UN since 1999.”
Dr Nabarro has led inter-agency efforts to combat disease threats and outbreaks, including malaria, avian influenza, Ebola, Zika, and cholera. In 2015-2016, Dr Nabarro chaired the advisory group on the reform of the WHO’s work in outbreaks and emergencies.
Dr Nabarro said millions of people in the world get poor as a result of falling ill, spending lot of money even losing their homes in order to get money to pay for medical care.
Responding to a question on corruption, the health expert said corruption does exist in the health sector in most countries. He, however, did not mention any specific country.
“It’s important to have transparency, know how money is spent and how decisions are made so that the public and the media can understand,” he said.
Dr Nabarro said because of his long work experience in the region, he is very familiar with the issues of health and healthcare in South Asia.
“In addition, over the last two years I’ve been working on sustainable development goals and climate change. Both these issues are relevant to Bangladesh,” he added.
The global expert said this is the special characteristics of the specialized organisation of the UN, WHO sets the standards and then others do the implementations. “I want to make certain whether it is on diabetes or on financing health systems or to deal with outbreaks we’re effective as a catalyst.”
Former Foreign and Health Minister of Ethiopia Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and former Health Minister of Pakistan Dr Sania Nishtar are also in the race for the DG post, WHO’s chief technical and administrative officer who oversees policy for WHO’s international health work.