Next WHO chief is Ethiopia’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Dr. Tedros Adhanom

Dr. Tedros Adhanom is one of three candidates running for the top job | Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

By Carmen Paun | POLITICO

Selection was the first in the UN agency’s history in which member countries voted on a new leader.

GENEVA — The global public health world on Tuesday chose Ethiopia’s former health and foreign affairs minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to be the new director general of the World Health Organization. He will take over from outgoing Director General Margaret Chan on July 1.

Tedros, who goes by his first name, was seen as the lead candidate going into the election because he represents Africa, a continent hit hard by the epidemics and diseases that affect the world’s poorest people.

His selection was the first in the WHO history in which member countries voted on a new leader.

In his address to delegates ahead of the voting, Tedros said his motivation to lead the agency comes from “knowing survival to adulthood cannot be taken for granted, and refusing to accept that people should die because they are poor.”

He is seen by many in the global health community as the health minister who transformed Ethiopia’s health care system, reducing child mortality and opening health centers catering to women’s reproductive health needs. The former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thomas Frieden, praised his achievement in Ethiopia.

However his election is likely to elicit protests from parts of the Ethiopian diaspora: Tedros was part of a government accused of using controlling tactics, including jailing journalists, to crush dissent. Aides working for the campaign of one of his rivals, David Nabarro of the U.K., recently dredged up accusations that Tedros covered up cholera epidemics to avoid isolation from the international community.

Tedros also defeated cardiologist Sania Nishtar of Pakistan for the job.

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