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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former medical doctor from Ethiopia, seeking third term after female predecessors chose not to stand
The controversial World Health Organisation (WHO) chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has been unopposed to become the next president of the United Nations agency.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) president would be the first black African to run the WHO after completing his current term in 2019.
In a statement, the WHO’s executive board said it was “looking forward to working with a strong, experienced leader” and congratulated Ghebreyesus on his bid for a second five-year term.
Tedros secured unanimous backing from African ministers – the first time the UN agency has seen the backing of all members of the continents who make up the 193-member United Nations.
His UN appointment on the first run in May 2015 was met with widespread hostility from Western nations and a petition calling for his to resign from the WHO has gathered some 300,000 signatures.
Tedros was not alone at the helm of WHO. On Monday, the two other permanent positions on the 14-member executive board were also decided without a run.
Liliya Shevtsova of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the decision went against the WHO’s own best practices.
“This must not be repeated in terms of selecting the next leader of the WHO which is, after all, an organisation, not an individual,” Shevtsova said in a statement.
“The 2020 women-led, transparent leadership election was intended to establish credibility and transparency and provide assurance that women’s perspective and preferences will be a central part of the selection process in the future.”
Known as the secretary-general for health, Ghebreyesus said in his first speech as WHO chief: “I do not have a secretarial jacket or a black tie.
“I am not burdened by the omnipotence of the office, neither is I overwhelmed by the weight of responsibilities.”
When he took over, WHO faced the devastating health crisis of the Ebola outbreak in the west African country of Liberia.
Failing to control the deadly virus, WHO was accused of being too slow to respond and failing to contact Liberian authorities.
Edmonds describes as out-of-touch with ‘the realities of life on the ground’ Tedros
A cross-party group of MPs, chairs of the UN and international health organisations and senior figures called for Ghebreyesus to resign after the outbreak.
But his unopposed election on Monday was greeted with surprise and fury by public health organisations and advocates.
The British public health expert, Professor Dame Sally Davies, who chaired the drugs and alcohol committee that recommended the use of emergency anti-retroviral medicines for people living with HIV, said he was “an enigma”.
Joanna Sharp, chief executive of the International AIDS Alliance, said Ghebreyesus had “failed to understand how he works with an organisation with so many different global health challenges at its core”.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that he has no idea about how the medicines HIV patients need to survive come from,” she said.
“We need someone with an understanding of the drugs and science and a personal stake in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, and who can steer us through where we can bend to get there.”
But he is held in high regard by the global health experts.
Charities and public health organisations, representing around 100 NGOs, are demanding a democratic process to lead the WHO after the next election in December 2020.
Dame Sally Davies, chair of the drugs and alcohol committee that recommended the use of emergency anti-retroviral medicines for people living with HIV, said he was “an enigma”.