The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has been re-elected for a second term. The 57-year-old Ethiopian was confirmed in office by a large majority in Geneva by the World Health Assembly, the top decision-making body of the WHO.
the essentials in brief
- Tedros has been the first African to head the WHO since 2017.
His re-election in the secret ballot of the 194 member states on Tuesday was considered safe because there was no opposing candidate.
Tedros became the first African to be elected WHO chief in 2017. The immunologist is a malaria expert and has a doctorate in public health care. He gained political experience in his home country Ethiopia as health and foreign minister.
As WHO chief, Tedros repeatedly caused controversy. His dealings with China, especially at the beginning of the corona pandemic in early 2020, brought him a lot of criticism. The then US President Donald Trump accused the WHO and its boss of being too friendly to Beijing and thus having contributed to the global spread of the virus from China. Trump initially paid the fees to the WHO and finally declared the withdrawal of the USA.
Other countries protect Tedros. They point to the weak position of the WHO, which relies on the cooperation of its member states – in this case China. He was supported by the EU, numerous states and scientists. As the pandemic progressed, Tedros also became increasingly critical of Beijing. With the arrival of President Joe Biden in the White House, Tedros once again enjoys support in Washington.
While the coronavirus and other viral epidemics continue to figure prominently in his speeches, Tedros’ concern has grown to focus on the impact of war and conflict on global health. In his speech at the opening of the World Health Assembly on Sunday, he described himself as a “child of war”. That’s why he knows from his own experience that war is followed “shortly afterwards by hunger and disease”. Peace is “a prerequisite for health,” explains Tedros, who says he will put this message at the center of his next term.
He will not be short of challenges: the corona pandemic is not over yet, and drastic reforms of the entire global health system are called for to avert threats in the future. In addition, new health threats are already emerging, including mysterious cases of hepatitis in children in many countries and the increasing number of cases of monkeypox infection worldwide.
Tedros can look back on many years of experience – even if he has been accused of failure several times in the past. Before he was elected head of the WHO in 2017, an adviser to his opponent had accused him of covering up three cholera epidemics in his country as Ethiopian health minister. A few months after he took office at the WHO, Tedros’ idea of appointing the authoritarian head of state Robert Mugabe as WHO goodwill ambassador in Africa triggered a real scandal. Mugabe was only persuaded to resign.
In the period that followed, Tedros was able to significantly improve its image. After the WHO was heavily criticized for reacting too late and too weakly to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in the years 2013 to 2016, the new WHO chief pushed through reforms to be able to intervene more quickly in future emergencies. Health care in the poor countries of the Horn of Africa also improved significantly under his aegis. Thousands of clinics and health centers have been set up.
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