Dr Sania Nishtar may become the first Pakistani to head the United Nations’ public health arm as World Health Organisation (WHO) prepares to elect its global chief in the ongoing month amidst tough competition between three candidates for the esteemed position.
A noted cardiologist, health activist and entrepreneur, former health minister Dr Sania is regarded as one of the potential favourites for the coveted slot of the WHO Secretary-General. Other probable choices include Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus from Ethiopia and Dr David Nabarro from UK.
Noted social activist Kanwar Dilshad says Sania’s rise to the WHO’s top position would be a landmark achievement for Pakistan. Yet this may not be an easy stride. She said, “It would be nothing less than a milestone. However, the challenges are gigantic. There’s a lot of negative publicity the WHO has received in last few years for its actions.”
Lately, the WHO has remained under strong criticism from the rights activists, independent observers and media for taking coercive measures to harm the multibillion dollar global tobacco industry instead of preventing the hazardous effects of smoking.
In this connection, the role of WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is marked with controversies.
A recent article published in The Huffington Post cites a research study by renowned health journal The Lancet, in March this year, which suggested that global smoking rates decreased by just 2.5 per cent in over a decade, despite a nearly $18 million budget of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and massive spending by national governments.
“The researchers were unable to account for how well enforced the policies were,” said the researchers at the University of Waterloo, Canada, who carried out the research. “Although progress in combatting the global tobacco epidemic has been substantial, this progress has fallen short of the pace of global tobacco control action called for by the treaty.”
Moreover, the WHO has also faced strong public backlash for being hostile to e-vaping technology that is considered an apt alternate to smoking with minimised health repercussions.
The Tobacco Harm Reduction Expert Group, which comprises of public health experts from countries like Greece, Italy, UK and India, has cautioned the WHO that its controversial policy to oppose alternative technologies like e-cigarettes is harming public health.
Apart from the tobacco industry, the public health agency’s failures in achieving key public health targets have proved to be disastrous.
Today, Pakistan is among the countries where polio virus and malaria continue to pose serious challenges. In the particular context of Pakistan, polio virus exists in less developed peripheral areas, especially the north-western tribal region, where polio cases keep surfacing despite running anti-polio vaccination campaigns by WHO and government authorities.
Additionally, owing to controversies attached to Osama Bin Laden episode, polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas and other parts of the country faces serious security challenges, which often hinders the administration of polio drops to children in these areas as polio vaccination teams have repeatedly come under attack.