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Tuesday, July 21, 1998 Published at 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK


New broom at WHO

The WHO is to foster new relations with industry

The former Norwegian prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, has started her five-year tenure as head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) by naming a completely new leadership and promising extensive reforms.

"Yes, there will be change. A change in focus. A change in the way we organise our work. A change in the way we do things. A change in the way we work as team," Ms Brundtland said in a 45-minute inaugural address to staff at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

[ image: Gro Bruntland: determined]
Gro Bruntland: determined
Under the 10-year rule of the outgoing head, Hiroshi Nakajima, the UN agency was criticised for having blurred priorities and an indecisive leadership.

Diplomats say that under Mr Nakajima, the WHO lost direction and the respect built up during campaigns that led to the eradication of smallpox in the late 1970s.

Ms Brundtland has already announced a new line-up of nine executive directors to replace most of Mr Nakajima's team, whose departure she called for even before taking office.

The new directorate consists of six women and four men, who represent separate administrative regions of the WHO.

One of the top executive posts went to a former pharmaceutical industry executive, Michael Sholtz of Germany.

"I want first-hand industrial experience in my team ... if we are to deal effectively with the complex field of health technology, drug and vaccine development," said Ms Brundtland.

In the speech, Gro Brundtland also outlined her plans to improve relations between the WHO, health and research professions, and the business community - in particular, the pharmaceutical industry.

To mark the change, the philanthrophic Rockefeller Foundation has announced it will provide Ms Brundtland with $2.5m to fund the recruitment of experts over the next two years.

Gro Brundtland was elected new director general at the WHO annual meeting in May. Her candidacy was supported in particular by the United States and the European Union, who were keen to implement reform of the WHO.

Gro Brundtland - a determined and tough campaigner - has vowed to make the fight against the scourge of tobacco as well as malaria her policy priorities.

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