TWN Info Service on Health Issues (May17/02)
26 May 2017
Third World Network

WHO: Secretariat proposes non-state actor secondment to ‘sensitive posts’

Geneva, 26 May (K M Gopakumar) – The Secretariat of the World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed secondment from Non-State Actors (NSAs) to sensitive positions in the global institution.

[A “secondment” to WHO is the assignment to WHO of an individual already employed by an entity, for a fixed period, under a tripartite secondment agreement concluded by WHO, the releasing entity and the employee. Secondees return to the releasing entity at the end of their secondment. While on secondment, secondees are WHO staff members.]

The WHO Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA) excludes secondment from the private sector. However, during the inter-governmental negotiations, no consensus was reached regarding the secondment from other NSA viz. academia, philanthropic foundations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).  As a way forward, the 2016 World Health Assembly resolution (WHA 69.10) that adopted FENSA requested the Director-General to develop and submit criteria and principles for secondment for the consideration of the 2017 Assembly that is taking place in Geneva from 22 to 31 May.

In pursuance of resolution WHA 69.10, the Secretariat prepared the document titled “Criteria and principles for secondments from nongovernmental organizations, philanthropic foundations and academic institutions” (WHA 70.53 available at: for the consideration of the on-going Assembly.  This document changes the criteria contained in WHA 69.10 for exclusion from secondment from NSAs.

WHA 69.10 identified the following criteria and entrusted the Director-General to further develop the criteria and principles. (

a)      Specific technical expertise needed and excluding managerial and/or sensitive positions;

b)      Promotion of equitable geographical distribution;

c)      Transparency and clarity regarding positions sought, including public announcements; and

d)     Secondments are temporary in nature not exceeding two years.

Thus the criteria in the WHA resolution clearly excluded secondment to managerial positions as well as sensitive positions. However, the Secretariat document changed these criteria in the document submitted for the consideration of 140th Meeting of the Executive Board (EB) in January 2017 and the on-going WHA. The amended criterion read: “managerial and/or positions that involve the validation or approval of WHO’s norms and standards are excluded”. 

As such, secondment from NSAs for sensitive posts is permitted, other than those involving the validation or approval of WHO’s norms and standards. In other words, if this is allowed, WHO can accommodate secondments from philanthropic foundations, NGOs and academic institutions, and the persons concerned can be allowed even to prepare WHO’s norms and standards. Secondments from NSAs will be excluded only in the case of validation and approval of the norms and standards.

In 2015 it came to light that one staffer from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation was holding a sensitive post as a strategic advisor at the Director-General’s office. ( The Secretariat’s proposed criteria allow the Secretariat to continue such practices.  In the list released in 2015 there was no secondment in the area of validation and approval of norms and standards.

The People’s Health Movement (PHM), in its commentary, states that the criteria and principles developed by the Secretariat do not check “back door” secondment from the private sector. For instance, a person from the private sector can be seconded through a NSA. There is no cooling off period provided before an employee from the private sector can work at WHO through a secondment from NSAs.

Another important shortcoming of the criteria is the absence of transparency requirements for the agency seconding its staff to declare the source of resources for the secondment. Similarly, nothing is mentioned in the document on whether the due diligence on the seconding entity and declaration of interest of the individual will be made available to the public or to Member States.

The report of the Director-General on FENSA is supposed to provide details of secondment. However, the report is silent on the details of secondment.

The WHA is expected to discuss the document on 26 May in Committee B.