Ethiopia's Dr Tedros Adhanom elected as new World Health Organization director

Tedros Adhanom, 52-year-old former health minister and foreign minister of Ethiopia, was elected on Tuesday as new Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), UN's health agency.

Margaret Chan, a former Hong Kong health director who has led the WHO for 10 years, steps down on June 30 leaving a mixed legacy after WHO's slow response to West Africa's Ebola epidemic in 2013-2016 which killed 11,300 people.

The third candidate, Pakistani physician Sania Nishtar, said she had a proven record of dealing with hard issues and would make constructive changes to the World Health Organization if elected.

Tedros was Ethiopia's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Health. He trained 40,000 female health workers, hired outbreak investigators, improved the national laboratory, organized an ambulance system and multiplied medical school graduates tenfold.

Tedros, who is known by his first name, defeated Dr. David Nabarro, 67, of Britain and Dr. Sania Nishtar, 54, of Pakistan.

His humble background, Tedros said, taught him to refuse "to accept that people should die because they're poor".

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. The election is the first where all World Health Organization member-states participated in the voting process.

Director-General, Tedros Adhanom, highlighted on Wednesday the importance of treating health as an inalienable human right.

The election now moves to a third round of voting; Tedros must win two-thirds of the votes to be named to succeed China's Dr. Margaret Chan, who is ending a 10-year tenure at the United Nations health agency.

'When it happens the world will turn to the WHO for guidance and for leadership.

"It was a massive effort delivering massive results", he said.

'We need WHO to be more effective than it is today, ' the director of Harvard University's Global Health Institute, Ashish Jha, said at the Swiss Press Club event.

Tedros was considered the favourite among the three, since an African has never before led the United Nations health agency.

All three candidates had addressed the Assembly before members went into voting session to elect the successor to Dr. Magaret Chan whose two terms ends in July this year. Among other pledges, Ghebreyesus said he would work "tirelessly to fulfill WHO's promise of universal health coverage".

In his final pitch for why he should lead the WHO, Tedros emphasized his experience as Ethiopia's health minister when he oversaw the expansion of basic health services across the country.

  • Leroy Wright