No candidate has been more scrutinized constantly, bullied more and passionately prosecuted in social media than Tedros Adhanom (PhD) of Ethiopia.
In a yea-long race for a historic attempt to be at the helm of the World Health Organization (WHO), the once noted Ethiopian Health Minister has become the leading candidate to become the next Director General of the World Health Organization. The 52-year-old is now on the verge and the real possibility of making history, becoming the first African to lead an important world institution.
Bruised by all the attention his candidacy is receiving from the Ethiopia Diaspora with pointed allegations since reflected in The New York Times and from other competing camps and failing to deter his efforts, he looked content, confident and relaxed when The Reporter caught up with him at Sheraton Addis, as he was about to receive his latest recognition, this time from the Rotary Club, as the recipient of the Paul Harris Fellow Award at Sheraton Addis.
In the capital for mere hours and scheduled to fly to South Africa and Rwanda, to lobby for his candidacy, he was surrounded by young people, unusual for a Rotary crowd that usually is populated with retirees and elders. But many have come to applaud a historic high, in a capital where many are consumed with charity and NGO work.
Standing next to tables of food, with gray hair making him look older than he is, it seemed everyone wanted to have a conversation with the former minister.
The young wanted selfies, the old wanted photos on their phones and even the hotel servers wanted to shake his hand. Some of these pictures would later appear in his own popular Twitter feed. This is a classic glimpse of the man, the mixture of people he continues to attract, making his once doomed candidacy transition to the mainstream and become the one to watch on judgment day next week.
Welcome to the world of Tedros Adhanom – Ethiopia’s celebrity politician.
Tedros joined the Ministry of Health in 1986, after graduating from the University of Asmara. An internationally recognized malaria researcher, as Minister of Health, Tedros received praise for a number of innovative and system-wide health reforms that substantially improved access to health services and key outcomes. Amongst them were hiring and training roughly 40,000 female health extension workers, cutting infant mortality from 123 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2006 to 88 in 2011, and increasing the hiring of health cadres including medical doctors and midwives. In July 2009, he was elected Board Chair of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for a 2-year term.
In November 2012, Tedros was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs by Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn. In January 2016 the twenty Sixth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union endorsed his candidature for the next election of the Director General of the World Health Organization as a sole African candidate.
The World Health Organization is no regional organization with a small budget. It is an international organization with a budget of some USD four billion. Structured within the United Nations framework, it fights for the eradication of leading disease, mostly in the world in HIV, Ebola, malaria, and tuberculosis – areas of importance to the African continent.
It was founded in 1945, at the conclusion of the era of the Second World War, after the idea was conferred by a Chinese delegate, Szeming Sze (MD) at a United Nations conference. He delegated the ideas to other international delegates for support but ultimately failed to attract support. But his effort was enough to call for an international conference on world health.
Within a year, more than 60 countries became a signatory of the concept and the World Health Organization was born as a result, becoming the United Nation’s first foray to its now signature specialized agencies.
To date, Africa has been seen as a recipient of the efforts of the organization, and not its leadership. That is essentially why; the candidacy of the onetime foreign minister of Ethiopia is seen to be unique among the usual status quo candidates of Europe and Asia.
The African Union endorsed candidate has described his vision as one that “everyone can lead healthy and productive lives, regardless of who they are or where they live”. Earlier this year, Tedros was the surprise leading candidate at an all day meeting of the Executive board of the organization among seven candidates, including the favorite and since eliminated candidacy of Philippe Douste-Blazy of France.
With a slogan – “Together, for a healthier future”, his candidacy has been endorsed by almost all of the African society from unexpected countries such as India and Egypt. The other candidates are from Sania Nishtar (MD) of Pakistan and David Nabarro (MD) of England.
The seventieth World Health Assembly will be conducted in Geneva, Switzerland and the highlight will be the election of its newest Director –General. The victor will take office on July 1st, replacing Margarett Chan (MD), who was appointed in 2006, with a bold task of helping improve health in Africa.