Thursday, 30 May, 2024
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WHO gets first African head

Tedtros Adhanon

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus from Ethiopia will be the next director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the first African to head up the UN agency, after winning the most votes from 186 member states. BBC News reports that he replaces Margaret Chan, who will step down from her 10-year post at the end of June.

The report says during her tenure, the WHO's response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa was criticised for being too slow. The agency was accused of missing key warning signs about the severity of the outbreak that began in December 2013 and ultimately killed more than 11,000 people.

Addressing the World Health Assembly shortly before the vote, Ghebreyesus promised to respond to future emergencies "rapidly and effectively". He also promised to stand up for the rights of the poor. "All roads should lead to universal health coverage. I will not rest until we have met this."

The report says his election was not without controversy. He has recently been accused of covering up three cholera epidemics in Ethiopia, but his supporters say this is untrue. Ethiopian opposition groups are also critical of Ghebreyesus. They accuse the government of human rights abuses and believe that Ghebreyesus’ candidacy is an attempt to raise the country's diplomatic profile.

Ghebreyesus said his vision as the new director general was of "a world in which everyone can lead health and productive lives, regardless of who they are or where they live". He told delegates at the World General Assembly: "I promise I will get up every day, determined to make a difference… I am ready to serve."

His top five priorities in his new job are: advancing universal health coverage; ensuring the WHO responds rapidly and effectively to disease outbreaks and emergencies; putting the wellbeing of women, children and adolescents at the centre of global health and development; helping nations address the effects of climate change on health; and making the agency transparent and accountable

Tulip Mazumdar, the BBC’s global health correspondent said although some people see Ghebreyesus as a controversial pick, many others point to his impressive CV and track record, and insist he is the best person to lead the world's "guardian of global health".

As well as serving as Ethiopia's foreign affairs and health ministers, he's also chaired the Global Fund, which mobilises and invests about $4bn a year to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.

Mazumdar writes: “During the election campaign, Dr Tedros told me about the deep injustice he felt as a child when his five-year-old brother died of what he now believes was measles. He said the disparity of care between the developed and developing world continues to be utterly unacceptable.”


The chair of the AU Commission HE Moussa Faki Mahamat, has congratulated Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on his election as the WHO director general.

“The world has chosen a consummate global health statesman with a strong track record of embedding global public health and health security as a vital cornerstone of human development,” the AU Commission head said. Ghebreyesus emerged victorious in a tough election against two strong candidates; Dr Sania Nishtar from Pakistan and Dr David Nabarro from the UK.

Ghebreyesus was recently at the helm of drafting The African Union Agenda 2063, which represents the strategic framework guiding Africa’s development priorities for the next fifty year, while serving as chair of the executive council of the AU.

The AU Commission affirms its support of Ghebreyesus’ priorities which include WHO reform; universal health coverage; health security; women, child and adolescent health; and the health impacts of climate and environmental change.

[link url=""]BBC News report[/link]

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