World Health Organization to be headed by an African for the first time


Ethiopia's Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will take the top post at the agency from 1 July - succeeding Margaret Chan - after winning a 23 May vote by WHO member states at the World Health Assembly, their annual gathering in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ghebreyesus will be the first African ever to lead the United Nations health agency.

Tedros served as Ethiopian health minister from 2005-2012 during when he managed to boost health care access across Ethiopia by creating over 3,500 health centres and deploying almost 40,000 Army of health workers.

Tedros will begin his five-year term after Margaret Chan, a former Hong Kong health director, steps down on June 30. Tedros, who goes by his first name (pronounced TAY-dros), won the job over Sania Nishtar, a cardiologist from Pakistan, and David Nabarro, a physician and World Health Organization veteran from Britain who led the U.N.'s response to the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014. Since Ghebreyesus did not get a clear two-thirds majority, the two candidates with the highest votes got pushed to the second round.

He succeeds China's Margaret Chan, who is ending a 10-year tenure at the United Nations health agency.

Ethiopia's prime minister, Hailemaraim Desalegn, said the election of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to head the World Health Organization is a big achievement for Africa and proves Ethiopia's growing role on the world stage.

"We need WHO to be more effective than it is today", the director of Harvard University's Global Health Institute, Ashish Jha, said at the Swiss Press Club event.

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He oversaw a drive to expand basic healthcare by building thousands of new clinics and boosting community-based health services.

"WHO was too slow to recognise that the virus, during its first appearance in West Africa, would behave very differently than during past outbreaks in central Africa".

Tedros, 52, was known for having drastically cut deaths from malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis, and neonatal problems when he was Ethiopia's health minister.

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has emerged as the victor to run the World Health Organization (WHO) after three rounds of an intense voting. All three candidates promised to reform the famously bureaucratic WHO, to champion universal health care and to make the world safer from the next global pandemic.

Welcoming the choice, Women Deliver has said his appointment comes at a time when the world needs a fierce and proactive advocate for gender equality and the health, rights and wellbeing of girls and women more than ever. "I have the ability to accelerate the reforms that you have championed".

Second to speak was Nabarro, who acknowledged that some have felt "let down" by World Health Organization and want it to be more relevant, responsive and reliable.