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A question for Dr. Tedros and other global health leaders ahead of Davos

By Kristof Decoster
on January 20, 2018

This year Dr Tedros will attend the Davos meeting, together with many other heads of state and leaders of international organizations, as well as civil society representatives and many other “leaders” in various sectors. While I understand this fits in his focus on a boosted WHO presence at international global policy fora, I personally think this is the one event he should stay away from. Even if I notice that his colleague Guy Ryder (ILO) is also expected there, Tedros himself seems quite keen on the ‘multistakeholderism’ model promoted by Klaus Schwab et al, and the WEF is trying very hard to convey the idea that it’s “opening up”, beyond the CEOs & other ‘happy few’ in the world.

I’m personally very much in favour of Tedros going to G20 meetings, promoting the cause of UHC at the UN, etc. But Davos is more than a bridge too far, even if many powerful global health leaders (not to mention Peter Piot) think this is actually the only place where you still get some things done, with CEPI as one of the latest examples. So I sort of get why Tedros wants to be there – trying to hook, for example, UHC to the global health security bandwagon (one of the only areas where I think there’s some alignment with Richard Horton).

But, while Davos has always been fairly unpopular with common citizens, even in the MDG era, now the place is downright toxic for a global health leader. If you want to know why, read Branko Milanovic’s blog, ahead of Davos. He – a relative WEF insider – totally nails it.  The rage across the world on the model “Davos” represents is huge, and not decreasing. It already led to “hiccups” like Brexit & Trump, and more are in the making, if we go further down this (Davos) road, no matter how many nice sounds they’ll be making again this week, and fancy new ‘initiatives’ kicked off.

So while I understand the (very much warranted) concern for global health security, as well as the high-level strategy to link it to some extent to UHC, I think instead global health leaders who really care about the right to health should side with the Corbyns of this world. Trying to conceive a very different world, based on totally different values from the system that is currently leading us downhill.

Being at Davos conveys the message that short & medium term concerns – global health security, notably – trump (longer term) social justice concerns, siding, at least implicitly, with “power”. That is not the message Tedros wants to give, I’m sure. It’s not too late to stay home, and give a press conference on the reasons why he is staying home. But now I’m being totally naïve, I know. That’s not how it works in our world.

And by the way, this issue goes beyond dr Tedros. It’s also directed to the Seths, Jim’s, Peters & Bill’s of this world.

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