First African, a non-medic; wins top post as Director General of WHO


Member States of World Health Organization have elected an Ethiopian leader, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 52, as the new Director-General of the WHO.

Dr Tedros is a biologist who metamorphosed into a public health authority in his country and beyond. He is expected to begin his five-year term on 1 July 2017.

He becomes the first African to occupy the position, succeeding Dr Margreth Chan, a Hong Kong-Canadian physician who has stepped down after ten years of serving the organization. She delegated the People’s Republic of China  for 2006–17.

China’s Margaret Chan, former Director General of the World Health Organization, WHO, waves during one of the top meetings. She has stepped down after ten years.

Dr Tedros, son of an Engineer, Mr Adhanom Gebreyesus from Seraye, was nominated to vie for this position by the Government of Ethiopia, and prior to his election as WHO’s new DG, he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia from 2012-2016 and as Minister of Health, Ethiopia from 2005-2012.

His triumph to the top position in WHO, perhaps began in1986; when he received his Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in Biology from the University of Asmara and joined the Ministry of Health of the Derg as a junior public health expert.

After the fall of Mengistu Haile Mariam, Tedros returned to university to pursue a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Immunology of Infectious Diseases from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

He subsequently received a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Community Health from the University of Nottingham in 2000. His doctoral dissertation on “The effects of dams on malaria transmission in Tigray Region, northern Ethiopia, and appropriate control measures”.

Dr Tedros officially announced his candidacy for the post of the Director-General of the World Health Organisation on May 24, 2016 in the margins of the 69th World Health Assembly as the sole African candidate with endorsement from African Union and Ministers of Health of the continent.

His official launch of candidacy in Geneva was attended by the chairperson of the African Union Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Rwanda and Kenya and Ministers of Health of African countries represented by the Algerian Health Minister Abdelmalek Boudiaf.

During the launch it was stressed that the nomination of Dr Tedros was based on merit and his prolific national and global credentials. His campaign tagline was ‘Together for a Healthier World’ and he also launched a campaign website at

He argued that he would bring a fresh perspective to the WHO as he has lived with the most pressing conditions of our time. His launch got wide media coverage and support.

During its 140th meeting in January 2017, the Executive Board of the WHO shortlisted Dr Tedros as the front runner out of six candidates through two rounds of secret voting. He has a long history in public health affairs.

On Tuesday, he was the top vote-getter in a three-way faceoff, knocking Dr. Sania Nishtar, 54, of Pakistan, out of competition. He defeated Dr. David Nabarro, 67, of Britain in the final ballot, earning 133 votes to Nabarro’s 50. There were two abstentions.

After signing a contract and taking the oath of office, Tedros told the World Health Assembly — the annual meeting of WHO member countries — that he did a lot of listening as he crisscrossed the globe campaigning for the job. Among the things he heard: Countries want WHO to be more efficient and accountable, and the next director general needed focus his or her efforts on the most vulnerable of the world.

Tedros will be the first director-general from a developing country and he will be the first non-physician to lead the WHO; he has a doctorate in community health. He served as Ethiopia’s health minister from 2005 to 2012 and is credited for innovative reforms to the health delivery system of a resource-poor country. Supports see that experience as something that will benefit the cash-strapped WHO.

He will be taking over an agency that is also widely seen to have badly bungled the early days of the 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa. Multiple postmortem reports have called for significant reform of the WHO in the wake of that outbreak.

Many public health experts are hopeful Tedros can turn the agency around.

“As someone who has worked tirelessly to reform health systems in Ethiopia and across Africa, he will bring great insight and the political leadership necessary to restore trust in the WHO at a critical moment in its history,” said Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust.

“Tedros’s commitment to immunization is clear,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the vaccine alliance. “His work with Gavi as Ethiopia’s health minister helped boost the proportion of children reached by vaccines from less than half to more than two-thirds, preventing the deaths of thousands of children.”

Tedros is the first director-general to be chosen by the organization’s 194 member countries. Previously the selection was made by the WHO’s executive board — a rotating committee of 34 member countries, serving three-year terms; the full membership merely rubber stamped the executive board’s choice.

In 2001, Tedros was appointed head of the Tigray Regional Health Bureau. As head of the bureau, Tedros was credited for making a 22.3 per cent reduction in AIDS prevalence in the region, and a 68.5 per cent reduction in meningitis cases.

He oversaw a campaign to improve ICT access that installed computers and internet connectivity to most of the region’s hospitals and clinics, whereas they had not been connected before.

In late 2003 he was appointed a State Minister (deputy minister) for Health and served for just over a year. It was during this time he started crafting his ambitious health reform agenda.

A globally recognized malaria researcher, Dr. Tedros has co-authored numerous articles on this subject and other global health issues in prominent scientific publications, including Annals of Tropical Medicine and Parasitology, The Lancet, Nature and Parasitologia and the British Medical Journal.

His seminal work earned him the distinction of Young Investigator of the Year from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and in 2003 he received the Young Public Health Researcher Award from the Ethiopian Public Health Association.

In 2011, Dr. Tedros became the first non-American recipient of the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Humanitarian Award conferred by the US National Foundation of Infectious Diseases.

In March 2012, he received the prestigious Honorary Fellowship from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Stanley T. Woodward Lectureship, Yale University (2012).

He also received the Women Deliver Award for Perseverance for his tireless efforts to improve the lives of women and girls at the fourth Women Deliver Conference on May 19, 2016.

He has also served as chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; as chair of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership Board, and as co-chair of the Board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

Dr Tedros was named as one of the 50 people who will change the world in 2012 by the UK Wired Magazine. The Magazine wrote ” Dr Tedros has used innovative techniques to save the lives of millions of Ethiopians.

Rather than building expensive hospitals, he has set up programmes to train 35,000 health workers. The workers then go on to provide care in nearly every community across Ethiopia — especially for women and children, who are often the most vulnerable and underserved.

The New African Magazine, a best-selling pan African magazine published in the UK, listed Tedros as one of the 100 most influential Africans for 2015 in the category of politics and public service.

The magazine named him as “the trailblazer” and signified his reformist agenda as Minister of Health of Ethiopia where he transformed the health sector of the country through massive deployment of health extension workers which has resulted in massive gains.


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