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World Health Organization Readies to Select New Chief

The job of choosing the new director-general of the World Health Organization has reached the final stage. The winning candidate for the post will be announced Tuesday.

The World Health Organization has trimmed its field of candidates for the post of director-general from eight to five. The short-listed candidates are going through a final day of interviews. The winning candidate will be chosen in a secret ballot by the organization's 32-member executive board.

The finalists include two candidates from Africa, one of whom, Mozambique's Prime Minister Pascoal Manuel Mocumbi, is considered the front-runner. If he succeeds in his bid, Dr. Mocumbi, a Swiss-educated doctor, will be the first African to head the World Health Organization. If he wins, he will have to resign as prime minister. Support for his candidacy is believed to be stronger than for that of another African contender, Ismail Sallam, a former health minister of Egypt.

The South Korean head of the World Health Organization's tuberculosis program, Jong Wook Lee, has also lobbied hard for the post of director-general. He is considered the biggest threat to Dr. Mocumbi. Dr. Lee has gained a reputation as an efficient administrator during his 19 years with the organization.

Another candidate is Peter Piot, the Belgian Head of UNAIDS, the joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS. Dr. Piot, discovered the Ebola virus in 1976 and has earned widespread respect as head of UNAIDS. Although his European origins are considered a disadvantage, his campaign has gained momentum in recent days.

The final candidate is the health minister of Mexico, Julio Frenck. He is believed to have strong support from the U.S. government, but the United States has refused to declare its choice.

The race for the top U.N. health official began soon after the agency's present head, Gro Harlem Brundtland announced in August that she would not stand for re-election. During her years in office, Dr. Brundtland has launched several new initiatives, including a tobacco control treaty and drives to roll back malaria and tuberculosis.

Whoever is selected by the executive board will then be formally approved when the full assembly of the World Health Organization meets in May. The assembly is made up of delegates from the 192 nations that belong to the WHO. The new chief, who will oversee a worldwide staff of 3,500, will begin his job on July 21, the day after Dr. Brundtland steps down.