Intended for healthcare professionals


The making of a WHO director general

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 31 May 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2605

Jacqui Wise looks at the difficulties of WHO’s first open election for director general and the background of its new leader, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

The World Health Organization has just appointed Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the former Ethiopian health minister, as its next director general, after a campaign that saw mud slinging and accusations of dirty tricks.

Dr Tedros, as he likes to be known, is the first person from Africa to head up the troubled organisation, which was criticised for its slow response to the Ebola epidemic. He will begin his five year term on 1 July 2017, succeeding Margaret Chan, who has been WHO’s director general for a decade.

The election was the first to be held under more open and democratic rules, with candidates debating together and setting out their manifesto commitments in online videos. For the first time each member state had an equal vote. Previously, WHO’s executive board—a rotating committee of 34 member countries serving three year terms—chose the director general. However, the ballots were still cast in secret, raising eyebrows among some who had hoped for a switch to a more transparent process.

Tedros, who had already received unanimous backing from all the countries in the African Union, predictably beat the British candidate, David Nabarro, into second place. Nabarro, a public health specialist had worked for decades within United Nations agencies leading responses to several epidemics, including Ebola. Tedros emerged on top in the two elimination rounds, receiving 133 of a possible 186 votes at the third round, according to an unofficial tally leaked to the press.

In third place was Sania Nishtar, a cardiologist from …

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