Behbehani was born in Kuwait City, studied medicine at the Universities of Kuwait, Liverpool and London University and received a PhD in Immunology in 1972. He is married and father of two daughters.
He was a Post Doctoral Fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Mathilda and Terence Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology in London. Behbehani returned to Kuwait and joined University of Kuwait, Medical School, where he eventually became Professor of Immunology and tropical diseases (1983). At the University level he held the following posts: Vice President for Research, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Science, Vice Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Medicine and member of the university council. During these years, he also became a visiting professor at Harvard Medical School (1979–1984). He was also Deputy Director General of Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research and a member of the Management Board of the IBM Scientific Centre, Kuwait. After the Invasion of Kuwait in 1990 Kazem Behbehani had to flee Kuwait and joined the WHO. At WHO (1990–2005), he worked in the vaccine research of the Global programmed of AIDS, was the Programme Manager of Tropical Disease Research (TDR), the Director of both the Division of the Control of Tropical Diseases (1994–1998) and, the Eastern Mediterranean Liaison Office (1998–2003) in Geneva. He served as a member of the WHO Board of Appeal, Secretary of number of Intergovernmental meetings (e.g. Tobacco Convention), as well as several of the committees/subcommittees of the Executive Board and the World Health Assembly. His last position was Assistant Director-General for External Relations and Governing Bodies (2003 – 5). In 2005, he became WHO Envoy. In 2006 he became official candidate in the WHO Director General election, where he succeeded to reach the top 5 list. In 2009 he became the Director-General of the Dasman Institute for Research, Training and Prevention, Kuwait, which he led until 2016.
Beside his WHO work he became member of many national and international advisory boards like the Scientific Advisory Board of the Cyprus International Institute for the Environment and Public Health; chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA’s External Panel for the Evaluation of Human Health Programme (2005); member of the International Agency for Research on Cancer – IARC’s Ethics Review Committee (2005–2009) or member of the board of Baroness Nicholson and J.K. Rowling’s Children’s High Level Group.
Scientific merits and Awards
Over the years Behbehani has developed close working relationships with various agencies and international bodies including AGFUND, OPEC Fund, Kuwait Fund, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development and the World Bank. In bringing the European Commission and WHO into a closer working relationship he pioneered industry collaboration, securing free drugs to treat elephantiasis for millions of people around the world.
Behbehani is actively involved in environmental and health issues, health management, application of information technology to health (eHealth), and development of interactive educational materials for public, professional and medical use (e-learning). He has written more than 100 scientific publications and a book on science and technology.
In addition to eHealth, his current interests include preventable infectious diseases (particularly HIV/AIDS), diseases of an ageing population, and pandemics. Behbehani has worked with the Japanese government to develop Japan’s initiative in the fight against infectious and parasitic diseases, which was brought to the Kyushu-Okinawa G8 Summit in July 2000 by the then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.
His WHO Health Academy initiative catalyzed the development and adoption of a World Health Assembly resolution on eHealth and of WHO’s eHealth strategy, both of which were developed under his leadership as Assistant Director-General.
He is the recipient of several awards and scientific recognitions, including the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science’s (KFAS) Best Researcher in Medicine. He served as a member of the Editorial Board of a number of scientific journals. He has more than 100 scientific publications and one book on science and technology to his credit. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath) (1995). The Cyprus International Institute for the Environment and Public Health in Association with Harvard School of Public Health has awarded him with an honorary degree of Master of Science in Environmental health in 2009. In 2016 Kazem received an OBE from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth for his services to UK/Kuwait Healthcare cooperation.
Elected a Fellow of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences in 1992.