WHO elects first African Director-General

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus [Photo: devex.com]

An Ethiopian medical doctor, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has been elected the new Director-General of the World Health Organisation.

Mr. Ghebreyesus, who was nominated by the Government of Ethiopia and will begin his five-year term on 1 July, was elected Tuesday as the first African to occupy the position.

He had served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia from 2012-2016 and as Minister of Health from 2005-2012. He also served as chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; chair of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership Board, and co-chair of the Board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

As Minister of Health, Mr. Ghebreyesus led a comprehensive reform effort of Ethiopia’s health system, including the expansion of the country’s health infrastructure, creating 3500 health centres and 16 000 health posts.

The reform also led to the expansion of the East African country’s health workforce by 38 000 health extension workers; and initiation of 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, 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.

There had been fears that Mr. Ghebreyesus would not get enough votes to become the D-G as the political drama Geneva caused tension among health experts who feared whether politics could outweigh accountability and experience in the casting  of the ballots.

Earlier this month, a last-minute attack on the candidacy of Mr. Ghebreyesus raised questions about whether wealthy western powers were prepared to accept African leadership of global health institutions, as he was accused of covering up some epidemic outbreaks in his country during his tenure as a minister.

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


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