By Samwel Doe Ouma @samweldoe
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has taken over officially as Director-General of the World Health Organization, succeeding Dr Margaret Chan, who has held office since 1 January 2007.
The Director-General is WHO’s chief technical and administrative officer and oversees the policy for the Organization’s international health work.
Tedros (pictured) was elected in May 2017, by vote of Member States at the Seventieth World Health Assembly. It was the first time that WHO Member States at the World Health Assembly selected a Director-General from among multiple candidates. In previous elections, the WHO Executive Board forwarded a single nominee to the World Health Assembly for consideration.
Prior to his election as WHO Director-General, Tedros served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia from 2012–2016. In this role he led the effort to negotiate the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, in which 193 countries committed to the financing necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Tedros also served as Minister of Health in Ethiopia from 2005–2012 where he led a comprehensive reform effort of the country’s health system, including the expansion of the country’s health infrastructure. He has also served as chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; as chair of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership Board; and as co-chair of the Board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.
WHO remains essential during health crises it can declare a global public health emergency, and stir member states to action when hundreds of doctors and nurses, sometimes in military uniforms, must enter a small country to help defeat an outbreak — as happened during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014 — W.H.O. provides the diplomatic cover necessary for those doctors to be seen by locals as medical peacekeepers, rather than invaders.
The UN agency also oversees cooperation among national laboratories, turning them into a vast surveillance network for fast-moving diseases like avian flu. It also sets global medical standards needed by poor countries, such as declaring which inexpensive generic drugs are safe and what are the best treatments for emerging diseases.