POLITICO:  In a first, African claims top job at WHO

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wants to expand health coverage and boost credibility. He has to mend fences first.

GENEVA — Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus overcame late attacks on his record in Ethiopia to become Africa’s first director general of the World Health Organization.

A charismatic former health minister and diplomat, Tedros, 52, pointed to his track record of developing a vast network of health centers in his country and leadership of another high-profile international health organization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. In his final address to delegates, Tedros invoked the memory of his brother, killed by a common disease at the age of seven.

 His motivation to lead the agency, he said, came from “knowing survival to adulthood cannot be taken for granted, and refusing to accept that people should die because they are poor. I have dedicated my life to improving health, to reducing inequality, to helping people everywhere live better lives.”

Tedros is also the first to be elected to the post in a vote by the member countries. He won in the third round of voting Tuesday, beating British doctor and diplomat David Nabarro. Pakistani cardiologist and civil society leader Sania Nishtar was eliminated in the first round of voting.

Nabarro’s loss is a defeat for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, whose government strongly backed him. The 67-year-old promoted his deep experience as a point-man for public health issues on a global stage, notably leading the U.N.’s effort to fix its response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa three years ago. But the geopolitics didn’t play in his favor, partly because of Brexit and the sense that it was Africa’s turn to lead the WHO, nor did his insider status at a time when the WHO is widely seen as needing a shakeup.

Tedros, who stepped down as Ethiopia’s foreign minister last year to run for the WHO office, led throughout the balloting. However, he needed a two-thirds majority to win, which he did not achieve until the third round. According to member country officials, Tedros ultimately won 133 votes in the secret, paper balloting, to Nabarro’s 50. (Of the agency’s 194 members, 186 were eligible to vote, and there appeared to be a few abstentions throughout the voting rounds.)

Tedros himself accused rival Nabarro’s campaign of a “colonial mindset.”

Both men had similar platforms, stressing their plans to emphasize universal coverage and boost the agency’s credibility after its high-profile Ebola stumble. However, ahead of officially ascending to the post on July 1, Tedros’ first task may be to reach out to his rivals’ supporters after a campaign that turned sour in its final stages.

The West’s awkward dance with the Ethiopian government played out in Tedros’ campaign. The country made dramatic public health advances during his tenure as health minister from 2005 to 2012, making it a model for development efforts in the region and a point of pride for the wealthy countries that bankrolled it. At the same time, the ruling party, in which Tedros is a high-ranking member, has been accused of widespread political oppression and withholding of services — including health care — from Ethiopian dissidents.

Tedros has generally acknowledged Ethiopia’s imperfections as a democracy while distancing himself from responsibility for acts of repression. However, a Nabarro adviser resurrected a well-worn accusation that Tedros had covered up cholera outbreaks in recent weeks. Beyond denying it, Tedros himself accused Nabarro’s campaign of a “colonial mindset.”

The late attack on Tedros, seen as out of line by some in the sober world of global health policy, fueled a backlash that may have boosted the Ethiopian’s campaign. But his response did little to quell the unease of governments and NGOs concerned about human rights.

Nonetheless, officials from the WHO’s regions lined up to congratulate Tedros, and Nabarro urged unity after the vote.

“I’m optimistic for the future under Tedros’ leadership,” Nabarro said.


Next WHO chief is Ethiopia’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Selection was the first in the UN agency’s history in which member countries voted on a new leader.

GENEVA — The global public health world on Tuesday chose Ethiopia’s former health and foreign affairs minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to be the new director general of the World Health Organization. He will take over from outgoing Director General Margaret Chan on July 1.

Tedros, who goes by his first name, was seen as the lead candidate going into the election because he represents Africa, a continent hit hard by the epidemics and diseases that affect the world’s poorest people.

His selection was the first in the WHO history in which member countries voted on a new leader.

In his address to delegates ahead of the voting, Tedros said his motivation to lead the agency comes from “knowing survival to adulthood cannot be taken for granted, and refusing to accept that people should die because they are poor.”

He is seen by many in the global health community as the health minister who transformed Ethiopia’s health care system, reducing child mortality and opening health centers catering to women’s reproductive health needs. The former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thomas Frieden, praised his achievement in Ethiopia.

However his election is likely to elicit protests from parts of the Ethiopian diaspora: Tedros was part of a government accused of using controlling tactics, including jailing journalists, to crush dissent. Aides working for the campaign of one of his rivals, David Nabarro of the U.K., recently dredged up accusations that Tedros covered up cholera epidemics to avoid isolation from the international community.

Tedros also defeated cardiologist Sania Nishtar of Pakistan for the job.

Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.

WHO News release: World Health Assembly elects Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as new WHO Director-General

 Today the Member States of WHO elected Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as the new Director-General of WHO.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was nominated by the Government of Ethiopia, and will begin his five-year term on 1 July 2017.

Prior to his election as WHO’s next Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia from 2012–2016 and as Minister of Health, Ethiopia from 2005–2012. He has also served as chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; as chair of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership Board; and as co-chair of the Board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

As Minister of Health, Ethiopia, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus led a comprehensive reform effort of the country’s health system, including the expansion of the country’s health infrastructure, creating 3500 health centres and 16 000 health posts; expanded the health workforce by 38 000 health extension workers; and initiated financing mechanisms to expand health insurance coverage. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, he led the effort to negotiate the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, in which 193 countries committed to the financing necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

As Chair of the Global Fund and of RBM, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus secured record funding for the two organizations and created the Global Malaria Action Plan, which expanded RBM’s reach beyond Africa to Asia and Latin America.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will succeed Dr Margaret Chan, who has been WHO’s Director-General since 1 January 2007.

For more information, please contact:

Gregory Härtl
WHO Department of Communications
Mobile: +41 79 203 67 15
Email: hartlg@who.int


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