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Is the new WHO Director General the right man for the job?

The World Health Organisation Director-general’s office is vital to global health. The WHO is responsible for advocating for health, mobilizing resources for health and setting health priorities. Among other things the WHO also supports National health agendas and public health strategies.  The Director-General is the chief technical and administrative officer overseeing the Organization’s international health work.

On 23 May 2017, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus from Ethiopia was elected Director-General for the World Health Organisation, becoming the first African to hold the position. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Tedros served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2012 -2016 and Minster of Health from 2005 -2012 in Ethiopia.

Here are 3 reasons why Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus might be the man for the job:

#1: He has a proven track record

Dr. Adhanom has vast experience and a proven track record. His time as Minster of Health was quite successful. Under his leadership, the health system was comprehensively reformed, health infrastructure was massively improved (3500 health centres and 16000 health posts were created) and the health work force grew from 16,000 to 115,000 professionals- making the Ethiopian Health System more responsive to health emergencies. This led to child mortality declining by two thirds, HIV infections by 90%, malaria deaths by 75% and tuberculosis deaths by 64%.   Such milestones speak for themselves.

Also, Dr. Adhanom is somewhat an unorthodox medical professional. His skills and experience might prove to be pivotal to his success as WHO Director-General. He is politically savvy with proven diplomatic track record. During his time as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he spearheaded a number of successful peace treaty negotiations in conflict stricken regions of Africa.  In the same role, he also led the development of the Addis Ababa Action Plan, an initiative that saw 193 countries commit to financing the Sustainable Development Goals.

#2: His stewardship

The World Health Organisation is currently faced with a number of challenges. Following the Ebola Outbreak which claimed over 11,000 lives including those of health professionals, many have lost faith in the WHO. The WHO was widely criticised for its slow response to one of the deadliest disease outbreak of recent times. Also, with some countries set to reduce funding, resources will certainly be harder to come by. For instance, the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts towards international aid are expected to have ripple effect on global health funding. Cost is also of particular concern. A report by Associated Press news agency revealed that the WHO’s spending on travel alone in 2015 and 2016 eclipsed that on global health priorities such as AIDS.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom might be the ideal person to carry the WHO forward. He possesses the necessary diplomatic skills required to rebuild an organisation that is in need of some reform. With his stewardship, the WHO can come up with innovative ways to raise funds and reduce costs as well as rebuild trust.

#3: It could be Africa’s turn

Finally, with most of the major health issues affecting Africa, many argue that it is perhaps high time an African held this position. Africa has made great strides in reducing needless suffering caused by preventable diseases and poor health. Life expectancy has dramatically increased by 9.4 years, rising to 60 years in 2016. This has been a result of the reduction in under-five and maternal deaths as well as increased health coverage. However, in spite of such gains, the recent Ebola outbreak a grim reminder of how weak health systems can lead to devastating consequences.

There is certainly a long way to go in transforming healthcare in Africa, let alone the world. The future of global health may call for a leader capable of fostering political will and multilevel partnerships. Hopefully, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus proves to be that sort of leader.

Read more: WHO

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