Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus elected Director-General of the World Health Organization

The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) congratulates the new Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and encourages him to implement much needed reform.

He is the first WHO Director-General to have served as a health minister and also the first WHO Director-General from an African country. He brings to the position a track record of driving health system reform in Ethiopia, resulting in marked successes in tackling tuberculosis (TB) there.

As Health Minister for Ethiopia 2005 - 2012 he realised several programmes of improvement for the country’s health systems. In an article outlining his suitability for the post, Dr Tedros listed some of these achievements: ‘I invested in the creation of 3,500 health centres and 16,000 health posts to improve access to basic health care across the country. This played a key role in reducing child mortality by two-thirds, HIV infections by 90 percent, malaria mortality by 75 percent and mortality from tuberculosis by 64 percent.’

During his tenure, the development of TB prevention and treatment services lead to the achievement of the TB Millennium Development Goal targets well ahead of time.

The Union is encouraged by these successes and also comments Dr Tedros has made regarding TB and Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). In an interview with AMR Times, he said:

“Continuing to scale up treatment for HIV and TB — and addressing the growing rates of resistance –should be high on the agenda of our efforts in combating AMR. We have made tremendous gains on these diseases in the past few decades, and I’m gravely concerned that resistance will start to unwind that progress.

“In 2015, for example, the WHO estimated that there were more than half a million new cases of drug-resistant TB cases that require treatment but only 20 percent of them were treated…those treated have about 50 percent treatment success rate. We cannot underestimate this crisis and we must do better to identify, track and manage these drug-resistant TB cases as part of our AMR efforts.”

Particularly in the aftermath of the Ebola crisis of 2014 there has been wide-spread recognition of the need for reform of the WHO. Dr Tedros has said that reforming the WHO is “very important. It has to be reformed, and we need to have a very effective, efficient and transparent organisation… I will be open-minded...It will start from listening — listening to the facts, listening to the partners, to all member states.”

The Union welcomes the possibility of reform to the organisation, building on the transparency already implemented by the outgoing Director-General, Margaret Chan. In his latest Director’s Corner, the Union’s Executive Director, José Luis Castro, outlines the areas in which reform is particularly needed.

The Union looks forward to working with Dr Tedros in helping WHO to deliver reformed policy and operations that ensure the health needs of the entire world are sufficiently met and has issued a statement congratulating him on his election to the post.  

The Union’s statement also outlines some priority areas of reform for the new Director-General to address; introducing more effective management processes; strengthening WHO’s capacity to monitor global health trends and threats in real time; and becoming better equipped to respond to crises and countries’ emerging health needs. The Union has also previously strongly urged the review of the WHO decision to omit TB from its ‘priority pathogen’ list and anticipates an opportunity to move this forward with the new Director-General.

Dr Tedros was one of three candidates selected by WHO Executive Board members and presented to the World Health Assembly (WHA) on 22 May for members to vote on. The other candidates were David Nabarro of the UK, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General and Sania Nishtar, former federal minister of the government of Pakistan.

Read an opinion piece by the Union’s Executive Director, José Luis Castro, on the need for WHO reform