WHO finalists vow reform amid Trump funding cut fears

The three finalists in the running to be the next director-general of the World Health Organization are (L-R) Tedros Adhanom, Sania Nishtar and David Nabarro (AFP Photo/Fabrice COFFRINI, Justin TALLIS) (AFP/File)

Geneva (AFP) - The three finalists in the running to take the helm of the World Health Organization vowed Thursday to reform the UN agency, as fears grew of deep funding cuts by Washington.

A day after the WHO presented a shortlist of candidates for the role of its next director-general, the finalists offered their visions for the organisation to reporters in Geneva.

Their presentations were overshadowed by reports that the United States, the WHO's largest donor, under President Donald Trump is eyeing drastic funding cuts to international organisations.

Commenting on the prospect, one of the candidates, senior Ethiopian politician Tedros Adhanom, said the organisation needed to "expand the donor base."

"When you put all your eggs in one basket ... that's when the problem happens," he told reporters, adding that reform would help ease critics' concerns and ensure continued support.

UN veteran David Nabarro of Britain also tried to downplay the threat while pledging change.

"I don't think that if we (make reforms) we will necessarily be cut off from money," he said.

He said he understood that the Trump administration wanted to be sure "that the organisation is working for impact in the most effective, efficient and transparent way."

Nabarro then described the concerns being raised in Washington as "an invitation to dialogue and an invitation to openness. And I am totally up for that and look forward to it."

Former Pakistani health minister Sania Nishtar also vowed to overhaul the WHO, which under current chief Margaret Chan has suffered from accusations of inadequate transparency and accountability.

The complaints boiled over during the 2014 Ebola epidemic in west Africa, when the WHO was found to have missed glaring warning signs about the severity of the crisis that ultimately killed more than 11,000 people.

Echoing reform promises from the other two finalists, Nishtar insisted that "we require a culture change within WHO."

The organisation, she said, needed to be "more result-oriented and more resilient" and should strive to "demonstrate value for money."