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Malaria expert to head up WHO

Internationally recognised malaria researcher, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus from Ethiopia, will be the next Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

He will be the first African to lead the United Nations agency and will replace Dr Margaret Chan who steps down from the role at the end of June.

He will also be the first non-physician to lead WHO – holding a PhD in community health. His leadership of WHO is for a five-year term.

Dr Tedros, aged 52, was previously the Ethiopian Health Minister and the Foreign Affairs Minister, and was also the chairman of the Global Fund to Fights Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

He has been elected to the Director-General’s post after winning the most votes from WHO’s 194 Member States during three rounds of secret ballots that began in January and culminated on May 23.

In a three-way face-off during the final vote, he first knocked off Pakistan’s Dr Sania Nishtar then defeated Britain’s Dr David Nabarro 133 votes to 50 (with some abstentions).

The agency has been criticised for its response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa – particularly for missing warning signs of just how bad 2013 outbreak that went on to  kill more 11,000 would be.

Before being elected, Dr Tedros committed WHO to responding to future emergencies more rapidly and effectively.

And he has promised to champion the health rights of the world’s poor. 

“All roads should lead to universal health coverage. I will not rest until we have met this,” he said while campaigning for the role.

“(My vision as the new Director-General is of a) world in which everyone can lead health and productive lives, regardless of who they are or where they live.

“I promise I will get up every day, determined to make a difference. I am ready to serve.”

The campaign was controversial at times, with Dr Tedros being accused of covering up cholera epidemics in Ethiopia – accusations that have been vigorously denied.

His candidacy was also greeted by Ethiopian opposition groups as an attempt to improve the country’s profile and smooth over accusations of human rights abuses by its government.

Dr Tedros has listed his top priorities in the new role as: advancing universal health coverage; ensuring WHO responds rapidly and effectively to disease outbreaks and emergencies; putting the wellbeing of women, children and adolescents at the centre of global health and development; helping nations address the effects of climate change on health; and making the agency transparent and accountable

Chris Johnson