Ethiopia’s foreign minister and previous health minister, Tedros Adhanom, wants to be the first African head of the World Health Organization, which plans to appoint a new health chief in 2017.
The view of global health has been seen in the past through the narrow lens of mainly developed countries, Adhanom told VoiceofAmerica. The WHO, which was established as a United Nations special agency almost 70 years ago, has never had a director general from Africa.
“As you know, Africa and many of the developing countries carry most of the burden (of disease),” he said. “We have never given a chance to Africa or a developing country to see the global health from that perspective and … who can understand the root cause of the problems that they have.”
Adhanom told VOA he has the diplomatic and work experience needed to operate internationally but can present a fresh perspective to global health issues by being African.
“I am stressing that I am actually competing based on merit,” Adhanom said. “There is a value proposition to it. We are saying we can add value. Let us see it from a different angle, with experience, but from a region where the burden is the highest in terms of health problems.”
Other candidates for the top WHO job include Sania Nishtar, Pakistan’s former minister of education and training, sciences and technology and Philippe Douste-Blazy, France’s former minister of health, according to WaltaInfo.
The new WHO leader will take office July 1, 2017, working as chief technical and administrative officer and overseeing policy for WHO’s international health work.
Asians have held the top WHO office for about 14 years, according to WaltaInfo, which describes itself on Facebook as a private media and public relations center in Ethiopia. Current Director General Margaret Chan is from China and took over in 2006 after the death of Korean Lee Jong-Wook, who served since 2003.
In the past, the head of the WHO was selected by a 34-member executive board. In 2017 for the first time, the entire 194-member World Health Assembly will elect one of three final candidates in May 2017.
Adhanom is an internationally recognized malaria researcher and was Ethiopia’s minister of health from 2005 to 2012 before being appointed foreign affairs minister in 2012, VOA reports. He also served as chairman of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
Not everyone agrees that Africa’s sole candidate for director general is qualified for the job.
Alemayehu G. Mariam, a vocal foe of Ethiopia’s single-party regime, teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino. He is senior editor of the International Journal of Ethiopian Studies, a leading scholarly journal on Ethiopia, and writes for the Huffington Post.
In a recent Nazret column, Mariam denounced Adhanom for insisting that “Ethiopia is a democracy with 100 percent of the vote.”
Ethiopia is a one-party state that jails journalists and puts down protests with brutal force at the first sign of dissent, Mariam.
Mariam also says Adhanom is disqualified for the WHO post because he helped defend Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto when they were charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity.
Adhanom went after the ICC, accusing The Hague-based body of “race hunting” and conspiring to “destabilize Africa,” Mariam said:
“(Adhanom’s) essential claim was that some white judges and prosecutors in The Hague were hunting down black African leaders and charging them with crimes against humanity,” Mariam said.
“The fact is that of the 19 ICC judges, only nine come from Western and Eastern Europe. There are four judges from Africa and the rest come from Asia and Latin America. Chief ICC prosecutor Fatou B. Bensouda is a Gambian (African) lawyer.
Adhanom tried to coordinate a mass walkout of the Rome Statue at a special meeting of the African Union in October 2013 during the debate over the trial of Kenyatta and Ruto.
In his opening remarks at the special meeting, Adhanom said, “The ICC has transformed itself into a political instrument targeting Africa and Africans. This unfair and unjust treatment is totally unacceptable… We should not allow the ICC to continue to treat Africa and Africans in a condescending manner.”
The man who made Africa safe for crimes against humanity is now trying to save the world from the bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic plagues as a WHO czar.
The African Union supports Adhanom’s candidacy to head the WHO.
Abdelmalek Boudiaf, Algeria’s minister of health and coordinator of the African Group at the WHO said that his election “would only be fair for Africa.”
In the last decade, Ethiopia claims to have reduced new HIV/AIDS infection. Malaria deaths have declined to zero and it has been six years since Ethiopia had a malaria epidemic. The country claims to have greatly improved access to health services, and Ethiopia is one of the few countries in Sub Saharan Africa that achieved significant reduction in under-5 mortality with limited increase in expenditure per-capita, according to WaltaInfo, the Ethiopia-based private media and public relations center.
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