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As election enters critical stage, WHO set to elect its first African DG

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The World Health Organisation is electing its new leader today (Tuesday), with the race narrowed to two finalists who have vowed to shake up the fiercely criticised agency.

After one round of voting, WHO member states eliminated a former Pakistani health minister, Sania Nishtar, several diplomats with direct knowledge of the closed-door result told AFP.

That left former Ethiopian health minister Tedros Adhanom and British doctor and UN veteran David Nabarro as the remaining candidates to succeed Hong Kong-born Margaret Chan as the UN’s global health boss.

Tedros, who is reported to have unanimous backing from the African Union, would be the first African to lead the organisation if elected.

A second round of voting is set to begin shortly.

Chan’s decade-long tenure which ends on June 30 was notably marred by condemnation of the agency’s response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

The WHO was accused of missing key warning signs about the severity of an outbreak that began in December 2013 and ultimately killed more than 11,000 people.

“We know that the next health emergency is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’”, US health secretary Tom Price said in Geneva before voting was to start.

“When it happens the world will turn to the WHO for guidance and for leadership. We need to be sure it is up to the task,” he told the Swiss Press Club.

Nabarro and Tedros are bidding to head perhaps the most influential United Nations agency, charged with emergency response and shaping baseline policies for treatment of major health challenges.

Tedros would be the first African to lead the body and has unanimous public backing from the African Union.

Nabarro has been buoyed by strong support from his native Britain and has touted his intimate knowledge of the UN system.

It could take two more rounds to produce a winner, given the WHO’s complex tallying system.

The agency has 194 member states, but only 186 nations were eligible to cast ballots Tuesday because of no-shows and voting rights stripped because of unpaid UN dues.

Tuesday marks the first time countries will get to choose the WHO chief.

Previously the executive committee offered just one candidate for states to rubber stamp.

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