World Health Organization (WHO) delegates from 185 countries elected Ethiopian Tedros Ghebreyesus as the first Director-General from Africa to head the United Nations specialised agency. Ghebreyesus was elected in a fiercely contested election, which was held in secret balloting at the WHO Assembly in Geneva – with the final vote of 133 out of the 185.
Dr Tedros a Ph.D. holder in community health, and a former health minister was nominated and funded by the government of Ethiopia and the east African community. He will begin his five-year term on 1 July 2017.
Dr. Tedros 52, a malaria expert replaces Dr. Margaret Chan from China, who has held the post for a decade. In his acceptance speech, he promised to pursue health insurance in the poorest nations, strengthen emergency responses, and bring equity, accountability and transparency to the heart of WHO.
“WHO must evolve to be more transparent, responsive, effectively managed, adequately resourced,” Dr. Tedros, reportedly said.
Prior to his election Dr. Tedros emphasized his experience as Ethiopia’s health minister, who steered the expansion of basic health services across the country.Dr. Tedros worked closely with health ministries across Eastern Africa region, where he was able to help implement health reforms.
“This model of basic but universal health care in the East African nations has been widely praised. It was a massive effort delivering massive results,” he told the WHO delegates during his campaign.
WHO profiled Dr Tedros experiences as a comprehensive health reformist who made an effort to improve his country’s health system. The experience includes expansion of the country’s health infrastructure, creating 3,500 health centres and 16 000 health posts; expanding the health workforce by 38,000 health extension workers; and initiated 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.
Dr. Tedros’ appointment is a welcome development. With his immense experience and having worked closely with the ministry of health in various African countries, there is a possibility that the continent will implement policies that could lead to impressive strides in improving health care delivery.
“But, as you know, Africa and many of the developing countries carry most of the burden. And, we have never given a chance to Africa or a developing country to see the global health from that perspective and to see the global health from those who can understand the root cause of the problems that they have,” he told VOA.
As reported in the New York Times, Dr. Tendros a malaria expert in Africa is best known for having drastically cut deaths from malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis and neonatal problems when he was Ethiopia’s health minister. He trained 40,000 female health workers, hired outbreak investigators, improved the national laboratory, organized an ambulance system and oversaw a tenfold increase in medical school graduates.