Ahead of WHO Leadership Elections – ‘Dirty Tricks’ Aim to Muddy Africa’s Choice


Geneva – Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is having a week from hell. The Ethiopian who is one of three vying for the coveted Director General of the World Health Organization(WHO) at next week’s General Assembly in Geneva, finds himself at the tail end of a barrage of allegations in what aides say are negative attacks aimed at fracturing his chances to head to world body.

Sania Nishtar [Pakistan], and David Nabarro of the United Kingdom were selected by the WHO Executive Board in January and given a shot in elections next week.

A report in the New York Times this week, citing allegations from Nabarro, one of Dr. Tedros’ challengers took aim at the Ethiopian, accusing him of Covering up three cholera epidemics in Ethiopia, when he was health minister, posing serious detriments to his chances of heading the WHO.

Tedros has denied the allegations and according to the Times insists that he was not surprised at all but quite disappointed that Dr. Nabarro’s camp – which he said included high-ranking British Health officials – had switched to running ‘last-minute smear campaign to shatter his bid.

In the last 48 hours however, several prominent international figures have come to Dr. Tedros’s aid.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a physician specializing in infectious diseases and public health, and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a letter to the New York Times dismissed suggestions that Dr. Tedros was responsible for the mishap in Ethiopia.

Said Dr. Frieden: “Although not optimal, many countries report cholera to the World Health Organization as acute watery diarrhea, as Ethiopia has.

This allows reporting and response without laboratory confirmation, but in no-way indicates that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former health minister of Ethiopia, is any less qualified to become director general of the W.H.O.”

Dr. Frieden added that multiple independent evaluations have confirmed that under Dr. Tedros’s leadership, Ethiopia is one of the few countries in Africa to have rapidly reduced infant mortality and achieved the Millennium Development Goal in this area.

“Cholera can be a devastating disease, but rapid action saves lives and stops outbreaks. Dr. Tedros created a network of nearly 40,000 female community health workers who were trained, supported and supervised to implement programs, including oral rehydration therapy, that prevent death from diarrhea and other causes.”

Dr. Frieden said that as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he personally traveled to Ethiopia several times and saw impressive progress strengthening community health, improving hospital care and establishing disease-tracking systems.

“The world would be safer and healthier if WHO facilitates this type of progress in more countries.”

Dr. Peter Byass, a professor in the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine at the University of Sweden, writing in the Lancet.com this week said while all three candidates are well qualified and experienced in their own ways and all fulfil WHO’s established criteria, Dr. Tedros is the best candidate.

Dr. Byass says he first met Tedros more than 20 years ago when he led the vector-borne diseases programme in northern Ethiopia. At that time, he recalls, villages were being encouraged to construct rainfed reservoirs to safeguard their water supplies.

“That was important, against the background of earlier devastating droughts and famines—but Tedros was concerned with what the health implications of large water bodies close to habitation might be.

With support from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and WHO, Tedros undertook a large-scale study of the effects of the dams—with the result that malaria was found to be seven times more frequent among children living close to the new dams.”

Dr. Byass explains that Tedros was instrumental in mobilising and inspiring communities toward better health.

Dr. Byass says Dr. Tedros’s determination to get effective support and solutions for Ethiopia’s major health problems has been recognised internationally, leading to him serving terms as Chair of Roll Back Malaria and the Global Fund. “Bill Clinton described him as “one of the ablest public servants I ever worked with”.

Dr. Tedros, according to Dr. Byass has the experience of raising and managing budgets in the billions for international organisations like the Global Fund, as well as for implementing health reforms in Ethiopia.

“The current health budget in Ethiopia is only marginally below WHO’s current global budget, even though one might argue that both are far too small. Tedros has turned around monolithic organisations with integrity and charm.”

Dr. Tedros has the overwhelming backing of the continent despite an initial objection from Liberia, as members states look to cast their votes at next week’s World Health Assembly from May 21-31.

The Ethiopian has targeted among his priorities if elected, universal health coverage; health emergency preparedness; women, children and adolescents; health impacts of climate and environmental change; and creating a transformed WHO that is effectively managed, adequately resourced, results-focused and responsive.

FrontPageAfrica reported last year, that Liberia’s Health Minister Dr. Bernice Dahn, was contesting along with France’s Douste-Blazy against the decision of the AU.

In an interview on France 24 TV Channel, conducted with Minister Dahn and Douste-Blazy, the Liberian Health Minister promised to support Douste-Blazy and also persuade other African countries to do so.

The French channel stated that both Dr. Dahn and Douste-Blazy were contesting as a set and on the same ticket. But Blazy did not make the cut.

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