Africa’s Choice Should Head World Health Organization
Following intense criticism of its handling of the Ebola outbreak of 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) has outlined institutional changes to address the shortcomings that led to a weak and ineffective response. While implementation is beginning under outgoing leader Dr. Margaret Chan, the ambitious reform agenda that global health leaders have demanded will depend on the next director-general, to be elected next year.
Unless WHO makes a wise choice, the organization will not become what the world needs it to be – a fast-response organization that can actively coordinate health emergencies. Zika is a current example of how local threats quickly become global, but others are inevitable.
In addition, the unfinished business of reducing the health consequences of severe poverty – including disastrous rates of infant and child death and of mothers in pregnancy and childbirth – is both a human tragedy and a drag on the global economy.
The African region, through the African Union, is backing the candidacy of Dr. Tedros Adhanom of Ethiopia. Here’s why.
He is minister of foreign affairs and a diplomat with extensive experience and the negotiating skills to craft international agreements. More importantly, as former minister of health, he acquired expertise in global health, accumulated from responding to some of the most devastating diseases of our time.
Some have argued that the world body should demonstrate its openness to diversity and change by electing an African as director general. But those who believe the position is too important to be decided on anything other than merit should be equally supportive of Dr. Tedros.
During this crucial period for the WHO, the organization needs an administrator of Dr. Tedros’ stature. His work leading reforms in organizations such as UNAIDS, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and GAVI, the vaccine alliance, has been exemplary.
At the Global Fund, where Dr. Tedros was Board Chair at a critical time for that organization, his leadership was groundbreaking. He helped revitalize an organization that was at the risk of failing into the vibrant agency it is today. The fund’s push for accountability in use of resources by recipient countries, while retaining flexibility to be creative, produced progress against disease and set it on the path of securing additional resources. Last week at a meeting in Canada the Global Fund raised a record $13 billion for its work.
During three decades, Dr. Tedros has tackled global health, security and development challenges in such global organizations, but he has also operated within government and at the level of local communities, where work is often constrained by limited resources. This depth of experience in varied settings is something the WHO of the 21st century needs.
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