Liberia’s Health Minister Dr. Burnice Dahn and former French Minister Philippe Douste-BLAZY have announced a joint ticket to head the World Health Organization or WHO as deputy and Director General respectively. Mr. Philippe Douste-Blazy, a current Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and President of UNITAID says he believes choosing Dr. Dahn as his deputy will attract African votes.
Douste-Blazy, a cardiologist and former minister of health and foreign affairs, seeks to replace current WHO head Margaret Chan, Chinese, who tenure expires in May 2017. He intends to ensure that WHO prioritises the establishment of basic health services in poor countries. He says there are about 2 billion people worldwide that lack access to medical care.
Dahn has also intimated her support for him based on his performance over the years. “I have decided to support him based on his performance during the years.” Burnice Dahn said, adding “also for the reason that the French government supported us during the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic.” “I fully adhere to his priority of reinforcing basic health services. This is the only mean of containing the epidemic our continent is suffering from.” Burnice Dahn said.
Following medical studies in Maurice, Monrovia, Pekin, and Washington, Burnice Dahn was Chief Medical Officer, when in 2014; she decided to put herself under quarantine following the death of her special assistant by Ebola virus.
See full interview with Philippe Douste-Blazy as published in JeuneAfrique JeuneAfrique: Did WHO react tardily to the Ebola epidemic in Africa? PDB: WHO is a well-respected organization, but it has to learn a lesson from the Ebola crisis. The international community is not ready to face a sanitary crisis of such huge extent. This is why we are supporting the project of its Director general to establish a rapid response system days following the outbreak of an epidemic. You also have to imagine how WHO can help developing countries, particularly in Africa, to establish basic health services.
Why such services? In those countries it is better to spend money on health centres, diagnostic centres, and to improve the access to medicine in order to build hospitals. That is less prestigious but it is called public health.
When I created UNITAID in 2006, there were 3.5 million children suffering from HIV-AIDS, 90% of which were from sub-Saharan Africa. Only 20 thousand of them were receiving treatment. Because children of rich countries are not suffering HIV, pharmaceutical laboratories concluded that the market was inexistent. Through minimum tax on plane tickets in 12 countries, UNITIAD developed with the help of CIPLA from India, paediatric medicines against this sickness. The result speaks of 100 thousand more kids treated each year.
So as you can see it is not the former French minister of health who is seeking the position of Director General of WHO, but someone who knows the field, someone who has worked on problems affecting the African population every day. What is the need of inequality observatory? It does already exist; I am only asking to reinforce it. This is why I have entitled my programme: “All humans should be equal when it comes to health.” What a shame that two billion people don’t have access to medicine. If the Director of WHO does not say who will? I am 63 years old, my career has been half political and half medical. I feel ready for a function that links the two chapters so I can be able to defend the poor. The biggest difficulty lies in the insufficiency of health budgets. One single example: money allocated to buying arms has reached 1780 billion of US dollars per year, when the budget of WHO maximums 2 billion USD per year.
If you are elected will you look for innovative financings of the type of UNITAID? WHO is already thinking about that. One of its reports shows that if you collect a tax of one cent usd on each pack of cigarettes in poor countries, 3 cents in middle countries and 5 cents in the G20 countries, you get 8.5 billion per year.
You use the terms “INNOVATIVE SPENDINGS” to advocate a reduction in health costs. What does that mean? If a French or American scientist discovers an efficient molecule, the new medicine, indeed expensive, will be available in ten years in Clermont-Ferrand or in Seattle. In Bamako or in Addis-Abeba, you have to wait for the next 20 years, because there are patents protecting this medicine in order to insure a wealthy remuneration to the manufacturer.
At the level of UNITAID we have told the laboratories that their patents are insignificant in poor countries because they don’t sell there. We have suggested to them to consent, to these countries, 98% less than in the rich countries. From the beginning they simply got rid of us. Today, the biggest laboratories are playing the game. For the first time in history, the poor has the possibility of buying at low cost the same medicine, the same day, as the rich.
Why poverty and sickness walk together? It is a vicious circle. Poverty brings a lack of health care because the poor people think about feeding their kids before healthcare. In all cultures it is the same: bread before health. And when a state has so many poor people it does not have the means to improve the healthcare system because the income is less than the demands. 15 years ago in Abuja it was decided that public health budget should represent 15% of the national budget of a country. We are far from that.
What do you think of your opponent, the Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus? I respect my colleague and opponent. But, since 10 years, it is not for my country that I contributed to lowering from 60% to 80% the cost of medicine for the treatment of HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria, but for all the developing countries-In particular Africa.
Let me add to that by saying that in WHO we speak English and French. The omnipresence of the first is as such that I know representatives of some French speaking countries who don’t go to meetings because they don’t understand what is being discussed.
Is it not time for an African to head WHO? The question was asked at the executive committee and the answer was unanimous: after Ebola, there is a need to have the best Director for WHO, whatever the nationality of such person. I was pleased to notice that several African countries, not only french speaking, support my bid.
Is it not a conflict of interest between your presidency of UNITAID and the candidature for the leadership of WHO? At UNITAID I am passing the baton to Celso Amorim, the former minister of foreign affairs of Brazil on the 23rd day of June. I am happy that a man of such wingspan is taking over. Let me add that I was never remunerated as head of that organization. Live on my job as professor at the University of Paris-VII and as visiting professor at Harvard. I never presented a bail. Only my transportations were taken care off. I am proud to say that the general bails of UNTAID did not exceed 8% of its total budget. In the world of organizations, it is, I think, a record.
Former Minister of the Right Wing, you are supported by the current head of state. What will be your position during the 2017 presidential election?
I am lucky that the president is supporting my candidature at WHO and I tell him big thank for that. France knows how to put partisan cleavages behind when it comes to defending its role in the world. That’s all I can say.