The Ethiopian, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was elected Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) at its 70th annual general meeting in Geneva. The 52 year old physician, a malaria specialist and former minister of health of Ethiopia and then foreign affairs, stated that establishing universal health coverage would be the priority of the WHO for the next few years. ‘This will be the epicentre of our activity. It is about political engagement. There are several options for achieving this. The important thing is that states achieve this.’
Among the other sites, Dr. Tedro is desirous of the WHO supporting the enhanced abilities of states to respond more efficiently to epidemics and calls for the consolidation of primary care systems and the fight against non-communicable diseases.
The new Director General will have to face several challenges and the first will be to consolidate an institution shaken by the criticised management of Influenza A in 2009-2010 and especially that of Ebola in 2014-2106 that killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa. He will, however, have to manage the influence of the WHO donors who have a strong voice in the policy chapter of the Institution of the United Nations, resist the lobbying from the pharmaceutical and agro-food sector and work to align medical/pharmaceutical research with population needs.
The first pitfall facing the new Director General will be the accusations of complicity in the Ethiopian government’s repressive behaviour toward a protest movement in the country in 2016 which cost the lives of 600 persons when Tedros was the Minister of Foreign Affairs.