Ethiopian minister is first African to head the World Health Organization

Former Ethiopian health minister Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been chosen as the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is the first African director-general of the World Health Organization
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, former Ethiopian health and foreign affairs minister, has been elected director-general of the World Health Organization. Tedros is a respected community health researcher, specialising in the fight against malaria. (Image: World Health Organization)

CD Anderson

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was nominated by the government of Ethiopia and elected by the WHO member states to begin his five-year term as director-general on 1 July 2017. He succeeds Hong Kong’s Dr Margaret Chan, who has held the position since 2007.

Tedros has been Ethiopia’s minister of foreign affairs since 2012. He was also the Ethiopian health minister from 2005-2012, during which time he spearheaded a comprehensive reform of the country’s health system.

Actions included expanding the country’s health infrastructure, creating 3,500 health centres and 16,000 health posts. Ethiopia’s health service workforce was also increased by 38,000 workers, including doctors, nurses and emergency service workers. In addition, he overhauled the financing mechanism to expand health insurance coverage to more Ethiopians.

As Ethiopia’s foreign minister, Tedros worked closely with other African nations on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, in which 193 countries committed to financing achievable Sustainable Development Goals for the continent.

As an internationally recognised malaria researcher, with a PhD in community health research, Tedros will be tasked with leading WHO developments in the fight against not only malaria, but also HIV/Aids and Ebola crises. During his career, he has worked extensively with United Nations bodies to ensure fair representation for African countries in health research and aid.

Tedros has chaired the board of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as head of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership Board.

His successes with these two organisations included securing increased funding to fight life-threatening diseases in Africa. At the RBM, his team created the Global Malaria Action Plan, which made inroads in malaria awareness and prevention not only in Africa, but also in Asia and Latin America.

Tedros was also co-chair of the board of the Partnership for Maternal, New-born and Child Health.

Addressing the World Health Assembly shortly before the vote, Tedros pledged to lead the WHO in responding to future emergencies more “rapidly and effectively”, particularly the early detection of Ebola outbreaks.

He also vowed to use his experience as Ethiopian health minister to actively ensure all Africans had access to healthcare, emphasising that “all roads should lead to universal health coverage. I will not rest until we have met this.”

Further outlining his vision for the organisation’s role as a global health security body, Tedros said he foresaw the WHO’s work ensuring “a world in which everyone can lead healthy and productive lives, regardless of who they are or where they live”.

World Health Organization, WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, health, africa, Ethiopia, ebola, HIV/Aids, malaria
(Image: World Health Organization)

His five priorities as WHO director-general are:

  • Advancing universal health coverage;
  • Rapid and effective WHO response to disease outbreaks and emergencies;
  • Ensuring the wellbeing of women, children and adolescents are the primary focus of global health and development;
  • Helping nations address the effects on health of climate change; and
  • Making the agency transparent and accountable.

Reacting positively to the appointment of the experienced doctor, the Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s leading biomedical research charities, stated that his track record on global health issues held great insight and strong political will when dealing with governments around the world.

Wellcome director Dr Jeremy Farrar added: “Dr Tedros has the power to herald a new era in how the world prepares for and responds to epidemics, including building partnerships, strengthening public health systems, and developing new vaccines and therapies that are available to all who need them.”

Source: World Health Organization, The Guardian, Wikipedia

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