Filipino WHO regional director candidate: Health should go beyond geopolitics

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 15) — A Filipino doctor who is aiming to be the next World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific regional director said health should transcend geopolitical affiliations.

If elected, Dr. Susan Mercado, the Philippines' nominee for the post, pledged to work for stronger public health systems, support for nurses, midwives, and community health workers, climate resilient health facilities, regulation on vaping or use of electronic cigarettes, and community action for food security.

During the candidates' forum on Friday, Mercado said the WHO should take a bigger role in the procurement of needed medical materials for pandemic response to ensure equity and access to all member states.

She added that countries should have an honest resource capacity planning and inventory for pandemic preparations and response.

A financing mechanism or a global fund, Mercado said, must be available for those countries that will require support.

As for reforms in the WHO, the nominee from the Philippines said decision makers who are close to the implementation of projects must have a say on how to utilize available resources, proposing participatory budgeting.

Mercado added that the regional director, instead of giving speeches during visits in member states, should stay longer on the ground to have a grasp of the actual situation in the area.

She said her 15 years of experience working in the WHO as senior manager, her ethical leadership, and expertise in certain medical fields are her strong suits to become the next regional director.

Mercado is currently the director for Food Systems and Resiliency at the Hawaii Public Health Institute, and the co-chairperson of the National Panel of Technical Experts of the Climate Change Commission in the Philippines.

Aside from her stint at the WHO, she also served as an undersecretary of the Philippines' Department of Health, and member of the board of directors of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation.

Mercado also has extensive experience in disaster and emergency management as deputy secretary general for health in Humanitarian Action for the Philippine Red Cross, and strategic adviser for COVID-19 for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Asia Pacific Region.

Aside from Mercado, there are four other candidates for the post:

-Dr. Song Li from China;

-Dr. Jimmie Rodgers from Solomon Islands;

-Dr. Saia Ma’u Piukala from Tonga; and

-Dr. Tran Thi Giang Huong from Vietnam.

All candidates faced representatives of WHO member states in a forum on Friday.

Each candidate was given an hour to introduce himself or herself and the programs he or she will push for if elected.

Candidates also answered questions on various health-related and administrative issues.

The WHO Western Pacific Region, based in Manila, is composed of 37 member states and area.

Members will vote to nominate the new regional director next month.

The nomination will then be submitted to the next meeting of the WHO Executive Board in January 2024 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The newly elected regional director will assume office on Feb. 1, 2024.