Monday 25 September 2017

Ethiopian Tedros elected as World Health Organisation chief

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, from Ethiopia, is the new WHO chief (Valentin Flauraud/Keystone via AP)
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, from Ethiopia, is the new WHO chief (Valentin Flauraud/Keystone via AP)

A former Ethiopian health minister has been elected to lead the World Health Organisation.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus beat Briton David Nabarro and Sania Nishtar of Pakistan in the race to be named WHO director-general.

He succeeds China's Margaret Chan, who is ending a 10-year tenure at the UN health agency.

The director-general wields considerable power in setting medical priorities that affect billions of people and declaring when crises like disease outbreaks evolve into global emergencies.

The agency has stumbled in recent years, most notably in its error-prone response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in west Africa, and all three candidates vowed to overhaul its organisation to restore credibility.

Before voting started, Mr Tedros, the only non-medical doctor among the three finalists, said it was almost "pure luck" that he was competing to lead WHO.

He said that when he was growing up in Ethiopia, his seven-year-old brother was killed by a common childhood disease, and it easily could have been him.

Among his pledges, Mr Tedros said he would work "tirelessly to fulfil WHO's promise of universal health care".

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

"There is real value in electing a leader who has worked in one of the toughest environments," Mr Tedros said, adding that he could "bring an angle the world has never seen before".

The former health minister has been dogged by allegations that he covered up cholera outbreaks in Ethiopia, and protesters have occasionally interrupted proceedings at the meeting in Geneva this week.

But Mr Tedros received a boost from Dr Thomas Frieden, an ex-director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

He wrote a letter published in the New York Times last week that commended Mr Tedros for his creation of a network of 40,000 female health workers that implemented programmes to save people from dying of diarrhoea and other causes.

Of the UN health agency's 194 member states, 185 were eligible to cast ballots; nine others were either in arrears on their dues or not represented at the gathering.

AP

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