In the midst of controversy over its lack of fund and budget use, the World Health Organization (WHO) gets a new first ever state nominated Director General, Tedros Adhanom (PhD), becoming the first African to win the high-profile post since its establishment in 1948.

State members of the United Nations (UN) body elected Tedros on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, at a voting cast in Geneva, Switzerland, turning him to be an influential executive in the UN post coming from a developing country to run the WHO for the next five years. The new position will give Tedros an opportunity to have a noteworthy impact on the organisation and the entire global health system.

The election of Tedros is expected to raise the influence of Ethiopia in the global health arena. Five months ago, his closest colleague and former minister of Health, Kesetebirhan Admasu (MD), also became the CEO of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, which was launched in 1998 by WHO, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the World Bank to fight malaria globally.

Tedros’s election was announced at a time that the organisation is being criticised for its budget consumption problems and for less effort in mobilising the needed resources. WHO spent 200 million dollars for travel expenses last year only, an amount which is significantly higher than what it spends annually to fight Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), tuberculosis and malaria combined, according to the Associated Press.

During the same period, WHO experienced a budget cut and lost employees. The director-general elect is then expected to fight the clout facing the organisation and make it responsive to global health problems.

Tedros beats his competitors after a year-long campaign in the most open election process that WHO has held in its 70 years of history. Unlike the previous election in which only executive board members of the organisation were allowed to select a director, this one was unique as the entire member states were allowed to vote. The new system, introduced in 2013, is meant to promote transparency and fairness in the selection process.

When the campaign kicked off, there were six candidates vying for the position. With a new rule of election employed and a series of closed interviews, WHO’s 34 executive board members finally voted to minimise the list to three on January 27, 2016.

Tedros, 51, Sania Nishtar (MD), 53, of Pakistan and Davie Nabarro (MD), 67, of Britain had been campaigning for a year to convince health ministers of the member states to vote for them in a competition to replace Margaret Chan, whose second term ends next month.

Tedros beats his competitors after a year-long campaign in the most open election process that WHO has held in its 70 years of history.

In the end, the outcome of the campaign worked well for Tedros, who received 133 votes from the 186 member states eligible to cast ballots. Nabarro followed with only 50 votes and the third candidate, Sania Nishtar, was already eliminated in the first round of voting. This has made Tedros the eighth director-general of WHO.

A day before the election, addressing the seventh world health assembly in Geneva, Tedros told the participants why he wanted to lead WHO.

”I have seen first hand the power of health to lift individuals and communities from despair into hope,” he said. He asked member states to vote for him not because he is from Africa, but that there is value in electing him as he has worked and delivered in ”one of the toughest health environments [Ethiopia].”

His campaign had not been without challenges.

Director of the O’Neil Institute for National Global Health Law accused him of allegedly covering up cholera outbreaks in Ethiopia – referring to the problem as an acute watery diarrhoea. Tedros, however, denied the cover-up allegation, according to the Washington Post.

All along his campaign, there were also groups from the Ethiopian Diaspora community petitioning and mobilising people against his bid for the position. They claim that he is also responsible for crimes, human rights violation, and freedom of expression restrictions that his party does in his home country.

Tedros, endorsed by the African Union (AU) and ministers of health in the continent, officially announced his candidacy for the post on May 24, 2016, with the tag line ‘Together for a Healthier World.’ In his campaign, Tedros vowed to commit himself to the WHO’s promise of universal health coverage, ensuring robust response for health emergencies, strengthening the front-lines of health, transforming WHO into a world-class workforce, and placing accountability, transparency and continuous improvement at the heart of WHO.

Tedros began his career as a medical officer three decades ago in the Tigray Regional State. He joined the health sector with the fresh memory that one of his younger brothers had died of malaria in one of the outbreaks that also killed many of his neighbours.

Tedros, who will lead WHO as a Director General with an annual salary of 139,500 dollars, was born in Asmara.

He acceded to the Ministry of Health in 1986 where since he has served the government in the areas of health, politics and diplomacy.

Tedros, who decided to be called by his first name throughout his campaign, earned his bachelor of science degree in biology from Asmara University in 1986, master of science degree in immunology of infectious diseases from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1992, and doctorate degree in community health from the University of Nottingham in 2000. His doctoral dissertation was on “the effects of dams on malaria transmission in Tigray Region, Northern Ethiopia, and appropriate control measures”, his educational profile reads.

Tedros, a globally recognised researcher on malaria, served as minister of Health from 2005 to 2012 and minister of Foreign Affairs from 2012 to 2016. During his tenure as minister of Health about 3,000 health centres and 16,000 health posts were opened in the country, playing a pivotal role in reducing mortality rates from malaria by 75pc, HIV infections by 90pc and tuberculosis by 64pc.

He is the first to be nominated by the state and won the highly contested bid for the top position. Many individuals had tried in the past but failed, from Endalkachew Makonnen (Lij) who had decided to compete for the post of UN Secretary General up to Sufian Ahmed, former minister of Finance and Economic Cooperation who ran to head the African Development Bank (AfDB). Tekalegn Gedamu had also run for the presidency of AfDB in the mid-1990s. He was not successful as the state did not nominate him. Teklewold Atnafu, governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE), ran for the presidency of The Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank (PTA Bank) and Konjit Sinegiorgis, one of Ethiopia’s long-serving diplomats, had tried for the AU’s Peace and Security Council only to fail for lack of state support.

Nevertheless, Tedros is not the only one who has won a high post in office like the UN. Tegegnework Gettu, assistance secretary in charge of UNDP for Africa; Getachew Engida, deputy director of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Sahleworq Zewdie, director of UN offices in Nairobi; Tesfachew Taffari, director of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for Africa; and Hirut Gebresellasie, special envoy for the Sahle, are Ethiopians who serve the UN in high offices, however, all these are appointments made by the Secretary General and professional occupations.

Tedros, who will lead WHO as a Director General with an annual salary of 139,500 dollars, was born in Asmara. He is married and has five children. He will begin his job on June 1, 2017, replacing Margaret, a Chinese woman, who served the organisation for the last ten years.


This content is edited after the original content mistakenly asserted that the Former Director of United State Centers for Disease Control & Prevention  (CDC) accused Tedros of allegedly covering up Cholera Outbreaks in Ethiopia. The statement should have read Director of the O’ Neil Institute for National Global Health Law accused Tedros of allegedly covering up Cholera Outbreaks in Ethiopia.

We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience this mistake may have caused.



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