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World Health Organization Elects First African Director-General

The Member States of World Health Organization (WHO) elected Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ph.D., of Ethiopia as the new Director-General of WHO. Known as Dr. Tedros, he is the first African to head the agency.

The WHO Executive Board selected by vote three candidates for the post of Director-General of WHO. Member States chose among Dr. Tedros, Dr. David Nabarro, nominated by Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Dr. Sania Nishtar, nominated by Pakistan, at the World Health Assembly on May 23.

Tedros was nominated by the Government of Ethiopia, where he previously served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia from 2012–2016 and as Minister of Health, Ethiopia from 2005–2012.

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 United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, 17 goals that aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

As Minister of Health, Ethiopia, Tedros led a comprehensive reform effort of the country’s health system, including the expansion of the country’s health infrastructure, creating 3,500 health centers and 16,000 health posts; expanded the health workforce by 38,000 health extension workers; and initiated financing mechanisms to expand health insurance coverage.

According to his bio, 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.

In addition, as Chair of the Global Fund and of RBM, Tedros secured record funding for the two organizations and created the Global Malaria Action Plan, which expanded RBM’s reach beyond Africa to Asia and Latin America.

His top priorities under his leadership include transforming WHO into a more effective, transparent and accountable agency; advancing universal health coverage; improving health security to detect, prevent,  and manage health emergencies; improving the well-being of women, children and adolescents; and better understanding and addressing the effects of climate and environmental change on health.

“I envision a world in which everyone can lead healthy and productive lives, regardless of who they are or where they live. I believe the global commitment to sustainable development – enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals – offers a unique opportunity to address the social, economic and political determinants of health and improve the health and wellbeing of people everywhere,” said Dr. Tedros in a campaign statement.

“Achieving this vision will require a strong, effective WHO that is able to meet emerging challenges and achieve the health objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said. “It will require revitalized WHO leadership that combines the public health, diplomatic and political expertise needed to address the most pressing challenges of our time.”

Tedros will begin his five-year term on July 1, 2017. He succeeds Margaret Chan, who has been WHO’s Director-General since January 1, 2007.

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