WHO Foundation appoints new CEO

Credit: Keystone/Martial Trezzini

Anil Soni joins the Foundation from Viatris, a global healthcare company, where he has served as head of global infectious diseases for 10 years.

The WHO Foundation has appointed a senior pharma executive as its inaugural CEO – suggesting that the Organization will make a big push to secure donations from the broader private sector as the curtain closes on a precarious budget year.

But speaking at a press briefing on Monday, the WHO director general commented on how the recruitment of an industry figure, Anil Soni of the US-based Viatris, to the WHO Foundation would create a whole new set of headaches in the form of potential conflicts of interest with industry donors whose money WHO Foundation is soliciting - at the same time that the Organization must also act as a neutral broker for the worldwide endorsement of new pharma products.

“The money will come from areas where WHO cannot mobilise directly … and where there could be a conflict of interest,” Tedros admitted. But since the relationships fostered with industry would be “indirect”, they wouldn’t pose a conflict of interest for WHO, as such.

“So, the relationship between WHO and WHO Foundation is not direct,” he said. “So one thing I would like to assure you is that we have done all the assessments.”

The WHO Foundation. The WHO Foundation, which was launched in May 2020, operates as a separate legal entity, allowing it to recruit funds from the private sector and private individuals and use that money to invest in research and science-based initiatives for which WHO lacks adequate budget.

Soni will be joining the WHO Foundation in January 2021 from the Pennsylvania-based company Viatris, where he has worked as Head of Global Infectious Diseases for nearly 10 years.

Precarious funding. US President Donald Trump's announcement in April to suspend the US funding to WHO, followed by his July announcement of a US withdrawal from the global health body, highlighted the delicate nature of the Organization's resource base, which relies heavily on voluntary donations from member states as well as from other charities.

Until April, the US was the biggest single donor to WHO, providing US $ 400 million in 2019, accounting for around 15 per cent of its annual budget. Although the subsequent election of a new US president, Joe Biden, will see another US about-face, since Biden has declared his intention to join WHO, the events of the summer, in the midst of a pandemic, underlined the precarious state of WHO's budget, which amounts to about US $ 5 billion a year.

“If any of [our] donors withdrew their funding, WHO would experience a shock which it cannot absorb,” Dr Tedros said at Monday's briefing, adding that since his election to head WHO in 2017, his “strategy solution… was for WHO to broaden its base of donors ”.

Soni has a two-decade career in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. He also served as CEO of the Clinton Health Access Initiative. Prior that he also worked for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria between 2002-04 as the Advisor to the Executive Director, and he has been an advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: the second largest contributor to WHO’s annual budget this year, after Germany.


This article originally appeared on Health Policy Watch