Dr. Tedros of Ethiopia Elected as the First African Director-General of WHO
By Dawit Kebede
Awramba Times (Geneva, Switzerland) – Dr. Tedros Adhanom, former Ethiopian minister of health and foreign affairs, was elected as the first African Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday, beating the British candidate David Nabarro in the third round of voting at the Seventieth World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.
In a first round of voting, the race to lead the top global health institution, was down to two candidates after Pakistan’s Dr. Sania Nishtar was eliminated and Ethiopia’s Tedros Adhanom was leading the race after two rounds of voting.
A correspondent for the Associated Press, from the assembly hall witnessed that Ethiopian delegates could be seen hugging and high-fiving each other after their countryman made it to the second round, which Tedros went on to win with 121 votes versus Nabarro’s 62.
The election later moved to a third round of voting. As a result, Dr. Tedros has won with 133 votes to be named as a successor of China’s Dr. Margaret Chan, who is ending a 10-year tenure at the U.N. health agency, while his rival candidate from the UK gained only 50 votes.
Of the U.N. health agency’s 194 member states, 185 were eligible to cast ballots; nine others were either in arrears on their dues or not represented at the gathering.
In his address to delegates, Dr. Tedros said it was almost “pure luck” that he was competing to lead WHO. He noted that when he was growing up in Ethiopia, his 7-year-old brother was killed by a common childhood disease, and it easily could have been him.
The outgoing Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, in her final opening address to the World Health Assembly, offered some advice to delegates “as you continue to shape the future of this Organization”. She called on the Health Assembly to make “reducing inequalities” a guiding ethical principle. “WHO stands for fairness,” she said. Countries should also work to improve collection of health data and make health strategies more accountable.
Following the official anouncement of the final voting results, David Nabarro, sent a congratulatory message to Dr. Tedros Adhanom in his new role as a Director-General of the WHO. “I urge everyone to unite behind him and his vision” the Briton running rival disclosed in his official twitter account.
Born in 1965 in northern Ethiopia, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, received his Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in Biology from the University of Asmara in 1986, and pursued a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Immunology of Infectious Diseases from the London Sc London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He subsequently received a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Community Health from the University of Nottingham in 2000, with his doctoral dissertation being “The effects of dams on malaria transmission in Tigray Region, northern Ethiopia, and appropriate control measures”
In 2001, Tedros was appointed as head of the Tigray Regional Health Bureau. As head of the bureau, Tedros was credited with making a 22.3% reduction in AIDS prevalence in the region, and a 68.5% reduction in Meningitis cases.
In late 2003 he was appointed a State Minister of Health and served for just over a year. It was during this time he started crafting his ambitious health reform agenda.
Tedros was appointed Minister of Health in October 2005 by the then Prime Minister of Ethioia, Meles Zenawi. Despite the many challenges faced by the health ministry in terms of poverty, poor infrastructure, and a declining global economic situation, progress in health indicators was considered “impressive” in Ethiopia. During the period 2005-2008, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health built 4,000 health centres, trained and deployed more than 30,000 health extension workers, and developed a new cadre of hospital management professionals. Taking his achievements in Ethiopian health sector into considerations, Ethiopia was chosen by the US State Department as one of the US Global Health Initiative Plus countries in 2010, where the US will support innovative global health efforts.
As Minister of Health of Ethiopia Tedros has been very active in global health initiatives and left a print of his influence in the wider area of the global health architecture. Ethiopia was the first country to sign compact with the International Health Partnership. He has served as Chair of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership (2007-2009), Programme Coordinating Board of UNAIDS (2009-2010) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (2009-2011) and Co-Chair of The Partnership for Maternal Newborn, and Child Health (2005-2009). He also served as board member of the several international institutions, academic and global health think tanks including the Harvard school of public health. He has also served as vice-president of the 60th World Health Assembly held on 14–23 May 2007.
Following the death of PM Meles Zenawi, Dr. Tedros was appointed as Minister of foreign Affairs In November 2012, as part of Hailemariam Desalegn’s new cabinet reshuffle.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Tedros played a pivotal leadership role in the Africa Union’s response to the Ebola epidemic. He particularly facilitated greater country ownership and urging countries to adhere to the WHO guidelines including the full implementation of the International Health Regulations. He also advocated that the Ebola crises offers a unique opportunity to strengthen primary health care and highlight the importance of health as a critical security issue. In an interview he conducted with Devex in November 2014 Tedros discusses what “disappointed” him in the global response to Ebola, the importance of solidarity in overcoming the outbreak, and how the deadly virus has transformed to a crisis beyond health. He also promptly mobilised 200 Ethiopian health workers highly trained in management of public health emergencies and surveillance (by an initiative he has created when he was the Minister of Health) to join the African Union response team.
Nominated by the Government of Ethiopia and endorsed by the African union as the only candidate of Africa running to lead the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will begin his five-year term on 1 July 2017 as a Director General of WHO.