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My Journey in International Health

I have always viewed a career in medicine as an absolute privilege. It is a profession that offers the ultimate satisfaction – being able to help someone who is ill to recover and get back to living a life.

24 January 2017


I have always viewed a career in medicine as an absolute privilege.  It is a profession that offers the ultimate satisfaction – being able to help someone who is ill to recover and get back to living a life.

As a medical practitioner you hear about a person’s problem.  Then you analyse the symptoms.  You work with your patient to find the solution.  Then, together, you make it happen.  It is this focus on diagnosis and treatment, and commitment to success that inspires me.  I love to be in a position to help people feel better, achieve more and make the most out of their lives.  That is why I work for the better health of people, communities and nations.   This is what has always motivated me and is what keeps me going.

By the same token I am frustrated when I am powerless to help people who are suffering and in distress. That sense of frustration is what energizes me to drive forward and help those in need.

In my career I’ve worked alongside fellow medical doctors and health workers in more than 50 countries across all continents. It is they who have shown me the challenges they face and how they seek ways to resolve them.  They helped me understand the contribution of international development and public health.  Along the way I have had multiple opportunities to put what I have learnt into practice, to share what I have learnt with others and to learn from them.  Over time I have learned how to stimulate movements for a better world and to encourage transformation within institutions of all kinds. 

I have learnt how good health is inextricably linked to wealth, food security, education and access to clean water, and how it can be undermined by changing climates. I have always been ready to tackle inequalities in health and wellbeing.  I have learnt how many of the health problems people face can be prevented, and – when they occur – can be treated.  I am painfully aware that millions of those who are sick do not benefit from access to the kinds of services that make a difference.

This does not seem to be right.  It is wrong that people continue to die across the world from illnesses that can be prevented and treated. 

This is what has driven me to work in international health.


Over the years, I have led responses in situations where people’s health is in danger.  In 1999 I worked on scaling up efforts for malaria control.  Between 2005 and 2014 I was tackling avian influenza.  In 2009 I focused on an influenza pandemic.  In 2015 I was ending the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Last year I was working in Haiti, coordinating responses to the Cholera outbreak.  In each case I worked with many other actors, encouraging a people-centred and whole-of-society effort,

I saw the way disease outbreaks undermined people’s livelihoods.  The suffering is intense. 

I appreciated how professionals working together, in concert, with a common approach, could reduce the suffering.  I appreciated the need for the people at risk of disease to be fully engaged.  I understood how disease outbreaks were linked to societies, economies and political processes.  I recognized the need for science-based responses that engage a range of sectors and disciplines.  And I learned that when multiple organizations are involved in a response, they need strategic direction and coordination to avoid gaps and overlaps. 

I learned how to promote synergized actions and to demonstrate impact at local, national and global levels, drawing on the convening power of the United Nations System but reaching beyond to engage civil society, business, scientists and innovators.  I am passionate about this way of working because I have seen its impact in many different settings.

That is why I am committed to well-coordinated and properly funded responses so as to minimise suffering and build capacity for the future.  This is an area which calls for leadership from the World Health Organization (WHO).  Indeed WHO’s strategic direction is needed on numerous issues, especially those which involve the engagement of multiple actors. 

Why I seek to be the Director-General of WHO.   

WHO must engage in other major challenges too.  Chronic or Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) account for the greatest number of deaths worldwide and given the fact that most are preventable or treatable, there is an urgent need to do more.

Then there are health threats that lie ahead of us. Unless immediate action is taken, the resistance of microbes to antibiotics (AMR) will become a major threat in coming decades. Climate change and air pollution are potential health threats that increase in scale year by year.  

This is the work of the World Health Organization.  Helping nations to prepare for and respond to threats.  Setting standards for what must be done.  Offering advice and guidance when needed.  Convening the actors and monitoring progress.   

WHO is well-positioned to catalyse these efforts and increase their impact.  The Organization takes an impartial whole-world view while responding to the needs of individual countries.  It focuses on what works (based on evidence) and helps ensure maximum impact. 

We have seen complete eradication of Smallpox in our lifetime: there are more diseases ready for eradication including Guinea Worm and Polio in the next five years. At the same time there is a need for concerted progress on HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB .

Disease eradication, non-communicable diseases, outbreak responses and health systems – this is the task of the World Health Organization working closely with the Governments of different countries and international partners.  WHO’s ambition is to lead actions that will result in the better health of all people – and this reflects my own lifelong commitment. 

That is why I seek to be the Director-General of WHO.


Am I suited for this role?   Yes: here is why - I have worked in global health for over 40 years - as a community worker, clinician, educator and project manager, to coordinator, leader, adviser and envoy; across geographical regions, in different political settings, and consistently focusing on health equity and impact.  I know how to lead multiple organizations on diverse issues whether at a local, national or global level.  I understand how science can best be used to underpin decisions. I am a creative innovator – always seeking the most appropriate and workable solutions. I am also ready to take on difficult issues and work through them.

I am delighted to have been proposed by the UK Government to be the Director General of WHO.  It is a role that I am ready to fulfil.  I am ready to serve and be accountable to the world’s people and their nations.  I would be honoured to be given the opportunity to do so.