Published: Thu, May 25, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Planned US funding cuts not a 'closed issue — New WHO chief

Planned US funding cuts not a 'closed issue — New WHO chief

Health officials from more than 180 countries meeting in Geneva on Tuesday have elected a new leader for the World Health Organization.

But Tedros (born 1965) is an Ethiopian politician, academic, public health authority that served in the government of Ethiopia as Minister of Health from 2005 to 2012 and Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2012 to 2016.

Adhanom, elected at the ongoing 70th World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, will succeed outgoing Margaret Chan, who has been the WHO's Director-General since January 1, 2007.

In the last weeks of his campaign to become WHO's next director-general, Larry Gostin, an adviser to his rival, Dr. David Nabarro, raised concerns about whether Tedros was a suitable leader, accusing him of covering up cholera outbreaks in Ethiopia.

In his final pitch for why he should lead the WHO, Tedros emphasized his experience as Ethiopia's health minister, overseeing the expansion of basic health services across the country. Amongst them were hiring and training roughly 40,000 female health extension workers, cutting infant mortality from 123 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2006 to 88 in 2011, and increasing the hiring of health cadres including medical doctors and midwives. That, he said, could and should be remedied through universal health care coverage, which would address the issue of health as a human right and act as a spur to development. During a campaign in which many people have been calling for more openness at WHO, Tedros was criticized for Ethiopia's habit of downplaying domestic cholera outbreaks by labeling them "acute watery diarrhea".

He promised to strengthen the frontlines of health, transform the World Health Organization into a world class force and lastly "place accountability, transparency and continuous improvement at the heart of WHOs culture".

"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.

Dr. Ghebreyesus joins the worldwide health organization at a time when it is reportedly being accused of being overly bureaucratic, slow, wasteful, and ineffective.

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Tedros said that one of WHO's ability to respond to unsafe disease outbreaks had improved following the blunders it made during the response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, but that more work was still necessary.

Less visible, but just as relevant has been "the way World Health Organization has built a safety net that encircles the globe in the form of thousands of laboratories specialized in the surveillance and diagnosis of priority pathogens, hundreds of collaborating centers, and a vast network of scientific boards and strategic advisory groups", Chan said.

The agency was broadly accused of failing the major test that followed the December 2013 Ebola outbreak, missing key warnings about the severity of an epidemic that ultimately killed more than 11,000 people. "The United States wants and we all need a strong World Health Organization". NPR's Jason Beaubien reports on his background and the challenges he'll face in this role.

For the first time ever, an African, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Gheybreysus of Ethiopia, has emerged as the new Director General of the apex health body, the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Dr. Sania Nishtar, a Pakistani cardiologist and expert in non-communicable diseases, was eliminated after a first round with 38 votes.

TEDROS: It was a massive effort delivering massive results.

The WHO is perhaps the most influential United Nations agency, charged with emergency response and shaping baseline policies for treatment of major health challenges.

Tedros said he preferred to see global agencies including WHO, the World Bank, GAVI vaccine alliance and Global Fund as part of one "big envelope". Tedros, who will be the first African to be the director general of the World Health Organization, will step into that post in Geneva on July 1.

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