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Strengthening the leadership capacity of the World Health Organization (WHO) must be the top priority of efforts to reform the Organization, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told members of the WHO Executive Board at a special meeting in Geneva this week focused on WHO reform.

Global challenges including financial crises, climate change, armed conflicts, emerging diseases, and aging populations all threaten to roll back health progress and exacerbate inequities in both health determinants and health outcomes between and within countries, Chan said. All of this makes stronger WHO leadership more important than ever before .

"The world needs a WHO that has a broad and wise vision, is quick to act, and never afraid to act in the interests of public health," she said. "That is part of safeguarding and protecting health. And that requires a WHO that is effective, efficient, transparent, and accountable."

Efforts to reform WHO emerged originally in response to growing financial constraints, Chan acknowledged, but discussions are now focused on maximizing WHO's contributions to global health by increasing efficiency and flexibility while concentrating more narrowly on areas where the Organization is likely to have the greatest impact.

During their meeting this week, the Executive Board will review a series of reform proposals developed by the WHO Secretariat in consultation with Member States. They include proposals for management, governance, and programmatic priorities and offer "some radically different ways of interlinking responsibilities at headquarters, regional, and country levels," said Chan. The reforms all seek to ensure that WHO has "a measurable impact on health outcomes in countries."

The WHO Executive Board is composed of 34 individuals technically qualified in the field of health, each designated by a Member State and elected by the World Health Assembly. Member States are elected for three-year terms. Currently, Barbados, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, and the United States represent the Americas on the Board.

The Executive Board meets at least twice a year, normally in January and in May, immediately after the World Health Assembly. Its main functions are to follow up on the decisions and policies of the World Health Assembly as well as to advise it and generally to facilitate its work.



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