Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Meet the Ethiopian official who wants to become the first African WHO chief

Tedros Adhanom, Ethiopia's minister of foreign affairs and former minister of health, is seen at a news conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, May 24, 2016.

Ethiopia’s foreign minister and previous health minister, Tedros Adhanom, has indicated his interest to compete as Africa’s first and only candidate for the post of director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) in its 70 years of existence. 

Tedros hopes to break that mold and promises to wage a vigorous campaign to achieve that goal.  

A new U.N. health chief will be appointed during next year’s World Health Assembly.

Tedros does not question the work and achievements of previous directors-general, but suggests that the view of global health in the past has been seen through the narrow lens of mainly developed countries.

“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 said.

Tedros rejects the assertion that he should be appointed to head the WHO because it is time for an African to assume this post.  

He told VOA he has the diplomatic and work experience needed to operate in both national and international spheres; but he noted that by virtue of his being an African, he can present a fresh perspective to global health issues.

“I am stressing that I am actually competing based on merit and merit… If you bring someone with experience from Africa, he can bring you a fresh view.  So, there is a value proposition to it.  We are saying we can add value.  Let us see it from a different angle, with experience, but from a region where the burden is the highest in terms of health problems.”  

Africa’s sole candidate for director-general has an impressive resume.  He is an internationally recognized malaria researcher and, prior to being appointed as Ethiopia’s foreign affairs minister in 2012, Tedros was minister of health from 2005 to 2012. 

He also has served as chair of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.