Ethiopia’s Tedros Takes the Helm of WHO

Ethiopia’s Tedros Takes the Helm of WHO


The World Health Organization (WHO) elected Dr. Tedros Adhanom of Ethiopia as its director general, the first person from Africa to lead the global health organization.

The election came after a hotly contested campaign, which Tedros won over two other candidates. In taking charge of the organization with 7,000 employees in 150 countries, he pledged to reform the WHO bureaucracy, tap new sources of funding and focus on a mission of bringing universal health coverage to people around the world.

“Health is a means to development. It’s not actually a waste — it’s the smartest thing to invest in,” said Tedros in a conference call with reporters after the election. “All roads should lead to universal health coverage. And it should be the center of gravity of our movement.”

Tedros, who has a Ph.D. in community health, won praise, particularly from donors, for his stewardship of health in the Ethiopian government from 2005 to 2012. He worked to improve maternal and infant health and battle diseases including malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis. He later served as the country’s foreign minister.

In Ethiopia, Tedros led a comprehensive reform effort of the country’s health system, including the expansion of the medical infrastructure, creating 3,500 health centers and expanding the country’s medical workforce to include 38,000 new extension workers. He also helped create financing mechanisms to expand insurance coverage. As minister of foreign affairs, Tedros led the effort to negotiate the Addis Ababa Action Agenda in which 193 countries committed to the financing necessary to achieve the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Health officials, including those from the United States, a key WHO donor, said the agency’s new leadership needs to focus on getting emergency response right after what many perceive as an inadequate response to the Ebola outbreak of 2014-2015.

“We know that the next health emergency is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when,’ ” then-U.S. Health Secretary Tom Price said. “When it happens, the world will turn to the WHO for guidance and for leadership. We need to be sure it is up to the task.”

Tedros succeeded Dr. Margaret Chan, who had led the WHO since 2007.