Day of reckoning for WHO chief

A NASTY squabble for the future leadership of the World Health Organisation should be settled today in Geneva, when the countries on its board of governors cast their secret ballots for the next director-general.

Money is already reputed to have changed hands and contracts have been threatened with cancellation as intense pressure has been brought to bear on impoverished Third World countries for a promise that they will support the candidacy of Dr Hiroshi Nakajima, the current WHO director-general who is seeking another five-year term.

His candidacy is being bitterly opposed by the United States and the European Community. If he is elected against their wishes today it could plunge WHO into a crisis similar to that which has afflicted Unesco since Britain and the US pulled out in the midst of an ideological battle in 1985.

With a budget of dollars 900m ( pounds 580m), WHO is responsible for fighting the Aids virus on a global scale and for combating various Third World epidemics.

Dr Nakajima's candidacy is being opposed by the staff of WHO, many of whom say that he has plunged the organisation into crisis by showing poor leadership and causing morale to plunge. Angry staff members are thought to have been behind the defacement of elevators at WHO headquarters with graffiti saying 'death to Nakajima'. They were also blamed when an ornamental carp nicknamed 'the director-general' was found floating in the UN's pool, filleted and with its eyes gouged out.

The real director-general is being challenged for the post by his former deputy, Algeria's Mohammed Abdelmoumene, who has EC and US support, and Nigeria's Minister of Health, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti. With the US accusing Japan of trying to influence the votes of Third World countries, the controversy has soured Japan's campaign to get a permanent seat on the Security Council.