The World Health Organization (WHO) hasn’t exactly been viewed in the most positive light as of late and many have accused the organization of failing to respond quickly and effectively enough to the most recent Ebola outbreak—a charge that WHO officials eventually admitted to. There was also the questions as to whether the organization was taking the Zika virus seriously enough and doing what was needed to attempt to stop its spread. While it remains to be seen what effect it will actually have on improving WHO efforts, some are now championing the organization for recently electing its first African Director-General.
At a recent meeting in Geneva, members of the World Health Assembly voted to elect Ethiopia’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as the new Director-General of the WHO, making him the first person from Africa to hold the organization’s highest position. Tedros, as he is generally known, was elected after three rounds of voting in which he beat out Pakistani cardiologist Sania Nishtar and British physician David Nabarro.
The election was notable for being the first time that the WHO head was chosen directly by the organization’s members. Previously, an executive board chose the new leader behind closed doors. However, this year’s election saw each of the 186 eligible member states given an equal vote, and although official vote tallies are not available, unofficial tallies suggest Tedros beat out Nabarro in the final round by 133 votes to 50.
Who is Tedros?
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is a physician who previously served as Ethiopia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2012 to 2016. Prior to this, Tedros spent five years as the country’s Minister of Health from 2007 to 2012. His experience has also seen him serve as chairman of the board for the Global Fund to Fight Aids, in addition to working as chair of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership board.
Although his pick was generally a popular one, there were a number of states that voted against Dr. Tedros due to his country’s poor human rights record. As well, there are some who accuse him of covering up cholera outbreaks during his time as Minister of Health, but these reports have never been substantiated and both Dr. Tedros and the Ethiopian government vehemently deny them.
Challenges Facing the New WHO Head
The new WHO head definitely seems to have the experience to do well in his new role. The fact that he served as both Minister of Health and Minister of Foreign Affairs makes him uniquely positioned to understanding both the medical and logistical sides of rural and urban development. In addition, the fact that he was directly responsible for obtaining funding and starting up the Global Malaria Action Plan definitely points to his ability to get things done.
Dr. Tedros’ stellar resume and outstanding track record has led many experts to conclude that he is definitely the best person for the role of leading the WHO in its fight to improve healthcare around the globe. Being from Ethiopia, he is also uniquely placed to understand the huge disparity between the healthcare available in the developed and developing worlds, and in fact, Dr. Tedros has made it one of his main missions to attempt to reduce this disparity, which he says is currently unacceptable.
Ultimately for Dr. Tedros, the only solution is affordable universal healthcare, and he has already set about trying to seek bi-partisan support for his efforts from the US government. While this particular venture may not have much luck, the election of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus does at least provide a glimmer of hope that things might finally be changing for the better in terms of world healthcare availability.