Ethiopia’s former Foreign Affairs minister Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has received strong backing from African countries to head the World Health Organisation (WHO), whose elections are due next month.
At the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland from May 21-31, member states will vote in a new director-general for the UN’s leading health agency, who will take office on July 1.
Tedros, 51, outlined to The New Times that his five priorities for the organisation namely: universal health coverage; health emergency preparedness; women, children and adolescents; health impacts of climate and environmental change; and creating a transformed WHO that is effectively managed, adequately resourced, results-focused and responsive.
“I would like my legacy to be the Director-General who brought the world together to achieve universal health coverage that is equitable and affordable for all. I believe that access to health is a human right,” he said.
“The Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Africa report that came out last year by WHO and others stated that 11 million Africans are falling into poverty every year due to high out-of pocket payments. That is unacceptable. I am convinced that UHC, with strong primary care and essential financial protection, is the key to overcoming global health security threats and to avoiding impoverishment.”
If elected, Tedros said he will seek to strengthen coordination and information flows between the Secretariat, the regional offices, including the Regional Office for Africa, and the country offices.
He said he will seek to develop a more diverse, inclusive, and effective health workforce at global, regional, and country office level, and work with member states to introduce a human resource reform for fair representation of all regions and countries at the Secretariat.
He will also seek to listen to the needs of member states and to promote country ownership.
Tedros said: “Countries must be at the table, as full and equal partners, to focus resources across a complex group of stakeholders working with them, to guide and make the decisions that will affect the health of their populations.
“As Director-General, I will pledge to partner with countries to build national capacity through the development of robust health systems, particularly at the primary health care and community levels, capable of leading prevention, detection, response, and recovery efforts.”
The candidature of Tedros, an internationally recognised malaria researcher who has also served as chair of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, was endorsed by the entire continent during the January 2016 Summit of Heads of State in Ethiopia.
This guarantees 54 important votes when the UN 194-member nations vote.
Names of candidates nominated by member states were announced on September 23, 2016.
In January, WHO’s Executive Board drew up a shortlist of five candidates – Dr Tedros, Dr Sania Nishtar, 53, of Pakistan, Dr David Nabarro , 67, of the UK, Prof. Philippe Douste-Blazy, 64, of France and Dr Flavia Bustreo, 55, of Italy.
Only three, Tedros, Nabarro and Nishtar, were selected by vote to proceed to the final vote by the World Health Assembly, the supreme decision-making body for WHO, which will be holding its 70th assembly.
Best qualified candidate
Rwanda’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Government Spokesperson, Louise Mushikiwabo, has described Dr Tedros as one of the best qualified individuals to lead the global agency.
She told The New Times on Monday that: “The upcoming WHO elections are important for Africa; we have the best qualified candidate in Dr Tedros.”
“All African countries have united behind him, and Africa is ready to play its part in global health. For us in Rwanda, and for the larger eastern Africa, we feel proud and look forward to May 23.”
Uganda’s Minister of State for EAC affairs, Julius Maganda, praised Ethiopia’s former minister of health as ‘‘the best contender’’ to be the global health agency’s eighth director-general.
“We are very happy to see that we have got a candidate in Dr Tedros. This is a very good candidature and we really support it as a region,” Maganda said.
Maganda said the most important thing is that if Dr Tedros wins, this “would definitely be serving Africa” because he will be the first African to lead the organisation in its 69-year history.
“So, we really support his candidature as Uganda, as a region in the East African Community, and as a neighbour of Ethiopia. I know that he is going to do much for Africa and the world as a whole.”
Transforming WHO into organisation world deserves
Asked what his likely election means for Africa, Tedros, who has a PhD in community health, said he is humbled to have the endorsement of the African Union. He said he’s “so grateful” to have resources from The East African Campaign Fund, a solidarity fund established with contribution from east African governments to support his campaign.
“There is consensus and commitment, not just in Africa but on all continents, that we must transform WHO into the transparent, results-based organisation that the world so desperately needs and deserves. This year’s election is historic,” he said.
Tedros observed that it is the first time under the new election rules and the first time that each of the 194 Member States has an equal say – no matter the size of the population or economy – in who becomes the next director-general.
“If I am elected director-general on 23rd May, that will be recognition by our peers around the world that our lessons from the continent of overcoming some of the toughest global health challenges with limited resources are paramount to successfully addressing health challenges around the world,” he added.
“Importantly, I also believe this experience will help bring a fresh perspective to WHO, one rooted in the opportunities and challenges individual member states face.”
The next WHO chief executive will take over from Dr Margaret Chan, a Hong Kong Chinese and Canadian physician who was first appointed in 2006, and whose second term ends June 30.