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Dr Tedros: First African to head the World Health Organization?


A new Director General of the World Health Organization(WHO) will take office July 1, 2017, a critical global health contest set among Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Dr. Sania Nishtar and Dr. David Nabarro.

The Director-General, is WHO’s chief technical and administrative officer and oversees WHO’s international health work. The current Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, who was appointed in 2006 and will complete her second term on 30 June next year.

Dr. Margaret Chan’s decade-long tenure in office will be remembered most for having  been smirched with the outbreak of the Ebola Virus disease which occurred for the first in the West African region.

Many global health pundits believe the race has boiled down to a contest between Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia and Dr. David Nabarro of Britain with Dr. Sania Nishtar, a Pakistani physician with the ‘least’ chance of winning.

The contesting trio

On January 25 2017, the WHO Executive Board selected by vote the following 3 candidates to be presented to World Health Assembly as nominees for the post of Director-General of WHO.

  • Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
  • Dr David Nabarro
  • Dr Sania Nishtar


On Huffpost, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania describes the three finalists in the following words;

Sania Nishtar: A Pakistani doctor, she has worked on non-communicable diseases for years and once served as a government minister responsible for issues including health, science and information technology. Unlike her competitors, Nishtar has little experience with outbreaks. During her campaign, she issued 10 pledges for action, including “transparency and accountability in all areas of its work” and a promise that the WHO leadership “will not be subject to special interests.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as he is universally known, is the former minister of health and foreign minister of Ethiopia. Under his leadership, Ethiopia trained and deployed approximately 40,000 community health care workers to almost every village in the country focusing on basic primary care: diagnosing and treating malaria, providing basic prenatal care and moving women to facility-based deliveries, and improving childhood nutrition.

Dr. David Nabarro is a global health “old hand,” working at the WHO since 1999. Over the years, he has coordinated or chaired numerous United Nations or WHO commissions, such as the Scale Up Nutrition effort and the Advisory Group to reform the WHO’s responses to infectious outbreaks and emergencies. Nabarro he has been most associated with the WHO’s responses to the cholera outbreak in Haiti, various influenza outbreaks, and from August 2014 to December 2015, the WHO’s anemic response to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa.

The final decision is next Monday, but this past weekend the Tedros-Nabarro contest was fortified with some revelations from  Larry Gostin of Georgetown Law School, a frequent WHO consultant and prominent global health scholar, when he released “an unsubstantiated charge against Tedros”. He claimed Tedros and the Ethiopian government covered up cholera outbreaks going back to 2006, calling them acute watery diarrhea.

“It is unclear why a decade-old charge was launched only in the waning days of the WHO campaign. Unfortunately, provided no substantiating evidence — no official report and no scholarly papers — to support his charge against Tedros. But suspicions are high because Gostin is a Nabarro supporter, although he denies any coordination with the Nabarro campaign. This charge, more rumor and innuendo, is worrisome in its timing and, leaving no time for a response, borders on the unethical. The denial of coordination seems suspicious — like the plausible deniability of a government leak.” says Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Immense Support from Global Health Leaders

In an open letter to Ministers of Health released May 20, 2017, 35 of the world’s top global health leaders expressed their support for Dr. Tedros to become the next Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). These experts believe he is the most capable and qualified candidate to lead the WHO through this reform and into the future.

(Dr Tedros meeting with clinicians in Algeria.)
(Dr Tedros meeting with clinicians in Algeria.)

“From 2005 to 2012, as Minister of Health in Ethiopia Dr. Tedros led the reform of Ethiopia’s health system, which
brought primary healthcare to the entire country and dramatically improved the country’s capacity to respond to
health emergencies. Under his leadership, child mortality in Ethiopia declined by two-thirds, meeting the Millennium Development Goal target two years early. At the same time, HIV infections declined by 90%, malaria mortality by 75% and mortality from tuberculosis by 64%. These outcomes speak for themselves, the letter highlighted.

Dr Tedros, if elected, will become the first DG from Africa at the helm of the global health body, that not withstanding, he is touted according to “global health experts”  as having the vision and experience to lead the world toward achieving the ambitious aims laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals, including universal health coverage, but also the hands-on experience to be a supportive, credible partner to countries in their efforts to achieve them.


Former Directors-General

The following are past Director General’s of the WHO

  • Dr Anders Nordström (Former Acting Director-General)
    From 23 May 2006 until 3 January 2007, Dr Nordström of Sweden was appointed by the Executive Board to serve as acting Director-General, following the untimely death of Dr LEE Jong-wook on 22 May 2006.


  • Dr LEE Jong-wook, Republic of Korea
    Term of office: 28 January 2003-22 May 2006


  • Dr G.H. Brundtland, Norway

Term of office: 1998-2003

  • Dr H. Nakajima, Japan
    Term of office: 1988-1998


  • Dr H. Mahler, Denmark
    Term of office: 1973-1988


  • Dr M.G. Candau, Brazil
    Term of office: 1953-1973


  • Dr B. Chisholm, Canada
    Term of office: 1948-1953

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