Next month the World Health Organization (WHO) will choose its new Director General. WHO, formed in 1948 with the portfolio of international health, is having its member nations vote for the new head for the first time in its history. This is a milestone for the organization as it tries to create an identity in a crowded field of international actors such as the World Bank, the Global Fund and the Gates Foundation. These organizations play an increasingly significant role in combating global epidemics with a lot more money than the WHO.
The new Director General will be responsible for re-branding WHO from a bloated and lumbering U.N. agency to the global health leader it was intended.
As of today, there are three remaining candidates: Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia’s former Health Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs; Dr. David Nabarro, a Briton who spent his career fighting epidemics worldwide for the United Nations; and Dr. Sania Nishtar, who briefly served as a government minister in Pakistan.
All three candidates are eminently qualified.
In a recent New York Times article, global health journalist Donald McNeil gives his readers the impression that Dr. Tedros and Dr. Nabarro have essentially edged out Dr. Nishtar to become the two frontrunners.
The Strathink Editorial team, recognizing the invaluable contributions made by Dr. Nabarro to global health in his long career, endorses Dr. Tedros as WHO’s next Director General.
Dr. Tedros, a malaria expert, has been on the front lines of transforming Ethiopia’s once poor-performing Ministry of Health, into a model of community health service delivery. In 2013, for example, Ethiopia reached its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4—reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015—a year ahead of schedule.
According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), one of Ethiopia’s most enthusiastic partners in strengthening the country’s health system, “Ethiopia pioneered a strong community health system that has propelled the country to reach this milestone,” concluding that, “While this triumph has yielded great benefits for the country as a whole, the individual impact of a child’s life saved cannot be underestimated.”
This is just one of many examples of Dr. Tedros’ extraordinary accomplishments in transforming a virtually non-functioning government institution into a vibrant and robust health delivery dynamo.
How? Dr. Tedros led. He led the Ministry every step of the way in its transformation—from training an army of women health extension workers to deploying thousands of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory technologists and health officers throughout the country.
Dr. Tedros was able to imagine what Ethiopia’s health system could be and transform his idea into a reality. He led the Ministry of Health—from his directors to his drivers—to success using a systems approach to health care service delivery. Evidence-based. Results-oriented. System-wide.
Evidenced-based decision-making is crucial in a country of limited resources and a population of 100 million people. Using the best data available, evidence-based decision-making is a rational, neutral approach that uses the best quality information available. This kind of decision-making—clear-eyed, balanced and pragmatic—drove the groundbreaking reforms of Ethiopia’s broken health system.
The WHO today is, according to many international public health experts as well as donors, is cumbersome, poor at coordinating a critical and timely response to epidemics. The mission of the WHO is oftentimes compromised by the requirements of donors that designate funds for specific projects. WHO is drifting away from its role as a global leader—struggling to meet the challenges of organizational inefficiency and dysfunction as well as a donor-driven agenda.
Dr. Tedros conquered these challenges in Ethiopia and is ready to do the same for the WHO.
Empowerment with accountability is intrinsic to Dr. Tedros’ leadership. Dr. Tedros understood that empowering officials at Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health while making them accountable was the only way forward in achieving reform. At WHO, given the organizational structure, there is a great deal of empowerment but far less accountability.
With Dr. Tedros’ leadership, WHO management will have the authority to make decisions within a context of transparency and accountability—a triad of effective management.
WHO is a critical point in its history. Limited resources, greater competition for those resources, and a declining global reputation requires innovation, originality and decisive leadership—qualities demonstrated by Dr. Tedros in his work to reform Ethiopia’s once failed health system.
Dr. Tedros took over Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health at a time when the country’s public health needs far outstripped the Ministry’s human and material resources. He built the new health system from the bottom up—focusing on the needs of the country’s most vulnerable people living outside of the urban centers. Dr, Tedros built Ethiopia’s health infrastructure, increasing availability accessibility, equity, efficiency and quality of health services.
Dr. Tedros embodies the respect and compassion needed to elevate the WHO to its rightful place on the global platform.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Tom Frieden in a widely quoted comment has said, “The world needs a really strong WHO. If we don’t make these changes now, they are not going to get made.”
Dr. Tedros can make these changes. He is the right person at the right time.
Strathink calls on all WHO member states to vote with their heads AND their hearts–vote Dr. Tedros, the peoples’ choice for Director General.