Health officials from over 180 countries who met in Geneva on Tuesday elected a new director-general for the World Health Organization in the person of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – the first leader of the agency hailing from Africa.
A former health minister from Ethiopia, Tedros, who goes by his first name, will take over an organization that has been struggling to find funding and exert the political governance needed to address the world’s biggest health problems, NPR reports.
Delegates at the World Health Assembly in Geneva conducted two rounds of secret balloting to select the next director-general. Tedros won over cardiologist Sania Nishtar from Pakistan, and WHO veteran David Nabarro from Britain, who led UN efforts during the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014.
All three candidates said that if they won, they would reform the WHO’s bureaucratic system, put an emphasis on universal health care, and prevent the next worldwide pandemic.
Tedros is now a medical doctor, but has a Ph.D. in community health. During his campaign, he highlighted his experience as Ethiopia’s health minister, where he supervised the expansion of the country’s basic health services. He said, “In six years we built more than 16,000 health posts, 3,000 health centers, deployed more than 40,000 health extension workers.”
His model of basic yet universal health care in East Africa has been lauded globally. Tedros said, “It was a massive effort delivering massive results.”
However, Tedros did face massive criticism for downplaying local cholera outbreaks, calling them “acute watery diarrhea.” During a campaign that called for more openness at WHO, Tedros promised to champion transparency once elected. His final pitch stated,
WHO must evolve to be more transparent, responsive, effectively managed, adequately resourced.
WHO sets global health policies and advocates for better conditions among the world’s poor. But it has struggled in recent years to meet expectations, and has been accused of being extremely slow, wasteful, bureaucratic, and ineffective.
Tedros takes over former director-general Dr. Margaret Chan’s job on July 1.