Dr. Tedros Adhanom announces his candidacy for WHO Director-General
Ethiopia's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Former Minister of Health, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, formally announced his candidacy for Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) at a press conference at the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday (May 24). Also present on the occasion were Ethiopia's current Minister of Health Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu, African Union Commission Chairperson, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, and Algeria's Health Minister, Mr. Abdelmalek Boudiaf. Dr. Tedros, who has received the unanimous endorsement of the African Union to be the next Director-General of WHO, is recognized worldwide as an experienced, collaborative, and diplomatic figure whose reform programs within Ethiopia and at the head of global health organizations, had achieved significant impact.
In announcing his candidature, Dr. Tedros said this was an "amazing time" in global health, emphasizing that huge progress had been made in improving health outcomes and making significant health advances in people's lives. In part this was certainly to be attributed to the diligent work of those at WHO and of health officials across the globe. Equally, there were also health challenges and some of these extended to WHO. But, he added, "I am here to tell you these are not challenges. These are opportunities for us to work together for a healthier world. Leveraging opportunities to create impactful change is what I have always been about, and what I have achieved throughout my career. And this is what I will bring with me as Director-General of WHO."
Dr. Tedros outlined the key steps he had taken as Ethiopia's Health Minister including taking a pragmatic look at the country' state of health care system, putting together a realistic plan rooted in research and data, building the partnerships needed to carry out a series of ambitious goals, and prioritizing the areas that would have the most substantial impact on people. He said, "The reform agenda we had was very comprehensive, including service delivery, workforce, the health information system, access to drugs, health financing, and health insurance. Almost all of the blocks of the health system were touched." As a result, Dr. Tedros said the country was able to slash maternal mortality rate by 69 percent, infant mortality by two-thirds, and produce significant reduction in the prevalence of HIV, malaria, and Tuberculosis.
Dr. Tedros underlined that his experience was not merely national but also global. He had led the Global Fund during its transition when it was reformed to address the challenges it faces. He had also chaired the UNAIDS Board, the Roll Back Malaria Board, and the Board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, as well as played a leadership role in other global health institutions. He said: "I believe my national and international experience will be an advantage in implementing reform, especially at the WHO level."
He said that the fresh view from Africa and from the perspective of a developing country that he could bring, would help to improve the global health situation. It would allow the world to understand the causes of many global health problems for fully, and provide serious contributions for Africa and developing countries and for the rest of the world by focusing on the root causes of many of the challenges that humanity faces today. Dr. Tedros further spelt out the key priorities he would focus on as WHO Director-General: achieving universal access to basic health care; strengthening emergency preparedness and response; emphasizing policies to improve the lives and health of women and girls; and improving funding structures and forging strong partnerships with organizations that share a common goal.
Primarily, he said, he would work to ensure that "everyone in the world, regardless of who they are, or where they live, has access to basic health care." He stressed that health issues were a human rights issue and an end in itself. They were also a means to development and prosperity, the "basic twin goals." This aim could be made possible in part through working with regions to create blueprints to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, which, he stressed, provided a global mandate to achieve universal health coverage and access to safe and effective medicines and vaccines for all.
Dr. Tedros maintained that he would focus on strengthening emergency preparedness and response. He said, "shutting down airports, canceling flights, and holding people hostage in quarantine, is not an effective way of addressing epidemics. We cannot truly be prepared for emergencies without building up the underlying health systems to detect, and prevent, these crises before they spread, and to implement the International Health regulation in its totality, in a comprehensive way." He emphasized that he would prioritize policies that improve the lives and health of women and girls. "Women are the backbone of society, yet in too many cases, they remain the most underserved by our policies. If we're going to improve the lives of all people, we have a clear responsibility to champion the rights of girls and women, and put them at the center of all the programs."
Dr. Tedros said that all this would require concerted efforts, viable partnerships and multilayered participation of everyone in the value chain. He said, "WHO cannot be everywhere, at every moment. It does not have the financial resources to enact all the programs necessary to address our world's most pressing issues. We can no longer afford to see impactful global organizations with a common cause as competitors; nor can we afford to continue taking funds that are earmarked for projects that do not achieve our broader goals. So WHO, in order to address all these health issues, should lead from the center and the front by building genuine and effective partnerships." He would, therefore, focus on improving the funding structure and forging strong partnerships with organizations that share a common goal. "This is about people. It's time for change. It's time for a Director-General who has lived some of the most pressing challenges facing our word today, as I have lived in Africa. It's time to make the next leap forward to ensure that no matter who you are, or where you are, or what you look like, you have the right to lead a healthy life. And that's what I am determined to achieve. And", he added, "that is why I'm running for Director-General."
Dr. Tedros is currently serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. He served as Ethiopia's Minister of Health, from October 2005 to November 2013 and previously held a number of expert and leadership positions in both federal and regional government, including the post of State Minister in the Ministry of Health and Head of the Tigray Regional Health Bureau. He has had extensive experience in global health initiatives and diplomacy. During his tenure as Minister of Health of Ethiopia, he chaired the Boards of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Coordinating Board of UNAIDS and Co-Chaired the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. He also served on the Boards of GAVI, the Vaccination Alliance and the Stop TB Partnership. In Ethiopia, his health sector reforms and the introduction of the Health Extension Program led the country to achieve most of the Millennium Development Goals health targets.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Tedros led the Third Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, in July last year to finance the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, in which health plays an integral part. The conference ended with the successful adoption of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. He has also served as Chair of the Council of Ministers of IGAD, the regional economic community for Horn of Africa and as Chair of the Executive Council of the African Union in 2014, he oversaw the successful adoption of the first 10-year plan for the AU's Agenda 2063 for the African Union, a plan that has put health at its center. Under his leadership, Ethiopia successfully hosted the 50th Anniversary conference of the OAU/AU.
Dr. Tedros holds a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Community Health from the University of Nottingham and a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Immunology of Infectious Diseases from the University of London (UK). He has co-authored numerous articles on prominent scientific journals including Nature, Lancet and the British Medical Journal. He has also received several awards and recognitions including being the first non-American recipient of the "Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Humanitarian Award" in 2011. Dr. Tedros He was listed among "50 people who will change the world" by the UK Wired Magazine in January 2012; and the leading African magazine, New African, chose him as one of the 100 most influential Africans for the year 2015.
The election for the WHO Director General post is scheduled for May 2017 during the 70th Session of the WHO Assembly.