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Year : 2007  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 86

The Search for HR in the New WHO Director General Inaugural Message

Retired, Switzerland

Date of Submission18-Jul-2007
Date of Web Publication04-Sep-2007

Correspondence Address:
J J Guilbert
15 avenue du Mail, CH-1205 Geneve
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 18058697

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How to cite this article:
Guilbert J J. The Search for HR in the New WHO Director General Inaugural Message. Educ Health 2007;20:86

How to cite this URL:
Guilbert J J. The Search for HR in the New WHO Director General Inaugural Message. Educ Health [serial online] 2007 [cited 2022 Aug 17];20:86. Available from:

Dear EfH reader,

Since 1998 I have kept you informed about the objectively diminishing interest for Human Resources (HR) in the annual WHO Report. It led me to interrupt my reviews in 2002 as, that year, the unique reference to HR was that ‘‘Workforce management is a neglected area in many health systems and needs a more comprehensive approach’’.

Surprise! I was told that it was totally devoted to HR. But I had to report to you that this well presented and rich document devoted only 9 pages (out of 207) in chapter 3, to ‘‘preparing the health workforce’’. As optimistic as ever I concluded by “Let us continue to hope for the return of HR with good news in a not too distant future”.

This is why I was all ears when, on November 9, 2006, Margaret CHAN the new Director General (DG) delivered her speech to the World Health Assembly following her election.

It is a very important message because it indicates the basis that will support the WHO policy for the coming years.

Malaria, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases remain on the top 3 priority list but “the health of the people of Africa is now the key indicator of the performance of the WHO” because “the people of Africa carry an enormous and disproportionate burden of ill health and premature death”.

The health of women is the other key indicator” because “their activities in households and communities, coupled with their low status, make them especially vulnerable to health problems (and) to violence. The health of children largely depends on the health of women: As mothers, as sisters, as aunts, and as grandmothers in the home, as carers, as teachers, and as health workers in the community”.

We must also address reproductive health, violence, and injuries and an increasing access to essential drugs; and the growing burden that chronic diseases place on development of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, mental illness, and others. We will complete polio eradication. We will scale up efforts to control tobacco. Our support to implement the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health will increase”.

This list is quite impressive. But one should remain cautious for 3 reasons.

The first word of caution is that the true power of a DG is, and has always been, in the hands of the Member States. It remains to be seen if the Member States, who as usual are going to vote unanimously the relevant recommendations in Geneva, will back home seriously put them in operation as it is not always the case.

The second word of caution is that the DG’s message is mainly “oriented” on vertical problems. In order to avoid sterile competition between each vertical program there is a need for a common policy platform. As for such a strategy, out of about 30 paragraphs only 3 are dealing with “the importance of primary health care”. Those 3 sacred words of the Mahler’s era had not been heard during the tenancy of Dr G. Brundtland after they had been lost in the garbled messages of her predecessor.

It is a nice music to hear again a WHO DG who said last November that primary health care “is the cornerstone of building the capacity of health systems. It is also central to health development and to community health security. I plan to promote integrated primary health care as a strategy for strengthening health systems. The reason is simple: It works. This is the only way to ensure fair, affordable, and sustainable access to essential care across a population". The good news is that the WHO Report 2008 will put all its emphasis on "Primary Health Care (PHC) and its role in strengthening health systems".

The third word of caution concerns HR. Here it is really very bad news.

During the speech and in none of the new DG speeches since did I ever read the words "education", "training", "development of health personnel", or "manpower". Whenever the DG mentioned "performance" it related to the "performance of WHO", and "training" related to modules. "Competence" appeared in one phrase "I will also accelerate human resources reforms to build a work ethic within the WHO that is based on competence".

There was nothing either in the speech about how the WHO is going to spread the "WHO message/ policies/ philosophy etc." It used to be well done by a centralized Publications division which was pulverized under G. Brundtland.

Dear EfH reader let us all be attentive to future actions of the WHO. Let us work together in our respective countries to ensure that our national “distinguished delegates” will provide the new WHO DG all the support she needs “Towards Health For All” with the help of HR.

Professeur (ret.) J-J. GUILBERT,

MD, PhD(educ),DHc(Ferrara)

15 avenue du Mail, CH - 1205 Genève, Switzerland

[email protected]


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