Next month, world leaders will come together at the World Health Assembly to determine the future of the world’s health. For the first time, all 194-member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) will vote directly for the next Director-General. Of the final three candidates, women leaders across the world are coming together to support the candidacy of Dr. Sania Nishtar to be Director-General of the World Health Organization. Support for Dr. Nishtar is based on her transformational leadership and bold vision for global health. This includes the seven key points:
1. Reformer: From being a young physician in Pakistan to driving national and international health reform and a strong voice demanding improved governance, Sania is widely described as a change maker who is additionally able to bring disparate groups together and build consensus across different cultural, social, economic and political perspectives while driving towards ambitious goals. Sania has used this to particularly advance women’s issues in Pakistan around family planning, social protection for women and ensuring that governance structures are gender equal.
2. Focus on Transparency and Accountability: After serving as the only woman in the Government of Pakistan’s cabinet of 2013, where Sania reestablished the Federal Ministry of Health in less than 100 days, Sania wrote a 136-page Handover Paper on the key decision points while in office. On being nominated as a candidate for the Director-General, Sania committed to making all of her campaign finances public, and has provided detailed financial reports of her campaign. Sania has also stated on social media that she has made no deals throughout her candidacy so as to allow her to ensure that on becoming Director-General she can surround herself with the best and brightest from around the world to drive the WHO reforms forward. Sania’s committed to work with countries to ensure a gender balance of senior leadership in the WHO and has pledged to adopt an accountability framework within the WHO that would be guided by independent voices. Her accountability credentials were recognized globally when she was appointed chair of the UN’s Independent Accountability Panel for the Global Strategy on Women’s, Adolescents’ and Children’s Health.
3. Breadth of Experience: As the first woman cardiologist in Pakistan, Sania understands the unique challenges faced by health workers in low resource settings and the barriers patients face in seeking the health services they need. Sania is the only candidate who has extensive national and international experience as a physician, civil society leader, and government official. Sania founded and scaled up the innovative financing mechanism, Heartfile Health Financing, which has been labeled as the amazon of healthcare because of the new ways of organizing people, processes, and resources to achieve greater scale and better health.
4. Health for All: Everyone, regardless of who they are or where they live has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Sania recognizes the role that strong health systems play in stopping disease outbreaks grow into global pandemics and addressing both infectious and non-communicable diseases. Sania is internationally recognized for her thought-leadership on universal health system. Sania’s book; Choked Pipes, provided a roadmap for low- and middle-income to move faster towards universal health coverage in mixed health systems.
5. Confronting Outbreaks and Emergencies: Health workers put their lives on the line when public health emergencies occur. Sania has outlined a bold strategy for responding quickly and effectively to such crises as she has in the past during Pakistan’s devastating earthquake in 2005 and floods of 2010. Building strong health systems around the world while also strengthening the ability of WHO to detect, lead, manage, and coordinate the response to outbreaks and emergencies will be critical to the preventing and effectively stopping diseases outbreaks. Sania has also recognized the need for the WHO to play a catalytic role in bringing governments, industry, international agencies, civil society and philanthropies together to develop new diagnostics, medicines and health technologies.
6. Global Advocate on Noncommunicable Disease And Mental Health: As well as being a cardiologist by training, Sania developed Pakistan’s National Action Plan on noncommunicable disease prevention, control and health promotion in Pakistan, which was the first integrated NCD plan in the developing world. Despite mental health being a heavily stigmatized issue at the time, Sania integrated mental health into the national action plan. Most recently, Sania co-chaired the WHO’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, which brought together international agencies, government, the private sector and civil society to agree ambitious recommendations to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity.
7. Action on Climate Change and Health: Many countries are already dealing with a myriad of health effects associated with climate change; from the increasing spread of mosquito borne disease to the 7 million people that die every year from air-pollution related deaths. Sania has clearly stated her support for mitigation and adaptation approaches that would strengthen the ability of health systems to respond to climate change as a threat to health. She has prioritized action in the most affected countries, including small island nations, where she has committed to making her first trip overseas as Director-General.