WHA wraps up, Global Financing Facility reshuffles, and harassment concerns continue: This week in development

A scene from the 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by: REUTERS / Denis Balibouse

Negotiators spar at the World Health Assembly, the Global Financing Facility eyes a new leadership structure, and harassment allegations continue to ripple throughout the development community. This week in development:

The global development community continues to grapple with issues of harassment and toxic work environments. In an exclusive story, Devex reporter Sophie Edwards revealed that employees at the United Nations Mine Action Service have complained of a culture of bullying under Director Agnès Marcaillou, which sparked an internal review. While some employees credit UNMAS’s first female director with working to professionalize and diversify the department and fighting a hard-drinking “macho” culture that earned it the nickname “U.N. Wine Action Service,” others say Marcaillou’s tenure has been damaging. “There’s a toxic culture of fear, public humiliation, and intimidation in UNMAS because of [Marcaillou] … People’s careers but also the reputation of UNMAS in the sector are at stake,” one staff member told Devex. Separately, most of the senior leadership of Amnesty International is resigning in the wake of complaints and allegations that the human rights charity condoned "a toxic culture of secrecy and mistrust," as one employee described it during an internal review. Amnesty International Secretary-General Kumi Naidoo ordered the review after two employees killed themselves last year. “The former Senior Leadership Team, which comprised of seven directors, has been dissolved and a new transitional team is in place until all of the positions in the new four-person Coalition Leadership Team are filled,” a spokesperson told the BBC.

The Global Financing Facility is preparing for a structural shake-up, which will place the multidonor trust fund under the leadership of the World Bank’s incoming global director of health, nutrition, and population, Muhammad Pate — a former Nigerian health minister. GFF, which deploys loans and innovative financing arrangements to catalyze greater domestic spending for maternal and child health, has so far been led by a standalone director. In April Mariam Claeson, the current director, announced that she will step down by the end of June, “to time [her] departure with the transition into the next fiscal year and a new phase of the GFF coinciding with, and being part of, the organizational change across the Human Development family of the World Bank.” Pate will replace Tim Evans, who has been the banks’ senior director of health, nutrition, and population for the past six years. Civil society groups are urging that GFF maintain both its independence, and its focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights, which they worry could come under pressure during the tenure of World Bank President David Malpass, who was nominated by the Trump administration.

The 72nd World Health Assembly wrapped up on Tuesday, with some tense negotiations over key issues lasting until the very end of the gathering in Geneva. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced in his closing speech that the institution is establishing a special program on primary health care to “support countries in strengthening the foundations of their health systems and of universal health coverage.” He also formally announced plans that were previously disclosed to create a new WHO Academy intended to “transform the training of WHO staff and public health professionals.” Member states were particularly divided on two topics: transparency in the costs and accessibility of medicines, and a global action plan to promote the health of refugees and migrants. “I would like to see a world that is homogeneously in favor of solidarity and rights, but this is not the time,” Davide Mosca, a commissioner of the UCL-Lancet Commission on Migration and Health, told Devex. “I think we need to be pragmatic and say ‘OK, we have something, it’s not perfect but let’s move on,’” he added.

About the author

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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.