WHO Director General Tedros unopposed for second term

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has overseen the UN health agency's response to Covid-19

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. AFP
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World Health Organisation Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is running unopposed for a second five-year term.

Ethiopian Dr Tedros, the first African to head the UN health agency, has overseen its complex response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has overshadowed his tenure.

Trained in biology and infectious diseases with a doctorate in community health, he is also the first WHO chief who is not a medical doctor.

The UN health agency made the announcement after the deadline for candidacies for the next term expired last month and Dr Tedros's name was proposed by 28 countries.

More than half of these were European. Three African countries – Botswana, Kenya and Rwanda – backed Dr Tedros.

The formal selection of the next director general takes place at the WHO’s next assembly in May.

A former Ethiopian health and foreign minister, Dr Tedros received a strong endorsement when France and Germany announced their support for him shortly after the nomination period closed.

He has repeatedly aired concerns about the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian government shunned Dr Tedros's candidacy over his criticism and his positions in the former Tigrayan-dominated national government. It has accused him of supporting Tigray forces.

Dr Tedros has been a leading voice urging wealthy countries with large Covid-19 vaccine stockpiles, together with the big pharmaceutical companies, to do more to improve access to the shots in the developing world.

He has also called for a moratorium on booster shots so that more doses could be made available quicker to poorer countries.

These calls have mostly gone unheeded.

The WHO says more than 60 countries are now administering about 1 million booster shots of Covid-19 vaccines each day – about three times the number of first-time vaccine doses being administered daily in lower-income countries.

In recent weeks, the WHO has faced mounting pressure over revelations in September from two independent experts who found that 21 WHO workers were accused of sexual abuse during the agency’s response to an Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2018 and 2010.

This was out of a total of 83 alleged perpetrators connected to the mission.

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The Code Blue Campaign, which campaigns to end sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers and other staff, described this as the largest finding of sexual abuse in a single UN initiative in a single country and period.

On Thursday, the EU’s executive Commission said it had suspended payments that fund WHO humanitarian operations in DRC in the wake of the revelations.

This could affect millions of euros used for programmes like emergency response, polio eradication and pandemic response in the African country.

“The reported facts are shocking,” a commission statement said. “Our thoughts are with the victims and survivors of these misdeeds and the priority is to ensure that they are fully supported.”

Updated: October 29, 2021, 2:43 PM