WHO head lauds progress, calls for effort against new health challenges

For the first time ever, an African, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Gheybreysus of Ethiopia, has emerged as the new Director General of the apex health body, the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Tedros, the first African to be the director-general of World Health Organization, will step in to that job in Geneva on July 1. He has also chaired the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, has chaired the Roll Back Malaria Partnership Board, and served as board cochair for the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

Dr David Nabarro of the United Kingdom and Dr Sania Nishtar of Pakistan were the other 2 among the 3 people shortlisted for the position.

Tedros will take over as World Health Organization director-general on Jul 1, succeeding China's Margaret Chan, MD, MPH, who held two 5-year terms.

Many public health experts are hopeful Tedros can turn the agency around. He defeated Dr. David Nabarro, 67, of Britain in the final ballot, earning 133 votes to Nabarro's 50.

All three candidates said that if they won, they would reform the WHO's bureaucratic system, put an emphasis on universal health care, and prevent the next worldwide pandemic.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn appointed Tedros as Minister of Foreign Affairs, in November 2012.

In her final address as head of the global health organization, Chan urged WHO to "remember the people" behind the facts and figures.

Tedros' resume says he holds a doctorate in community health and a master of science in immunology of infectious diseases. Health officials from all over the world assembled at the closed-door election to cast their vote.

Tedros, who goes by his first name, spoke out about diversity and the importance of listening.

"Tedros's commitment to immunization is clear", said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the vaccine alliance. "He succeeded in Ethiopia, making remarkable health progress by rapidly reforming a sclerotic bureaucracy and implementing effective community-based services", Frieden said. Previously, the director-general was selected by the WHO's executive board, then endorsed by the WHA.

The enthusiasm was echoed over social media, with many Ethiopians and other Africans praising the decision and expressing their optimism for future changes in the world health sector.

But Tedros received a boost from Dr. Thomas Frieden, an ex-director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The former health minister has been dogged by allegations - from one of his rival Nabarro's advisers - that he covered up cholera outbreaks in Ethiopia, and protesters have occasionally interrupted proceedings at the meeting in Geneva this week.

A former health minister from Ethiopia takes over an agency that's struggled recently to find the funding and exert the political leadership it needs to tackle the world's health problems.

  • Leroy Wright