Tedros, from ‘war child’ to head of the WHO

The first African to lead the World Health Organization (WHO), the Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who should be re-elected this Tuesday for a second term, presents himself as a man of peace, marked by a childhood immersed in war.

A specialist in malaria, a graduate in immunology and a doctor in community health, Dr. Tedros, as he likes to be called, was Minister of Health and Foreign Affairs of his country.

At 57 years old, this familiar face in the fight against covid is the only candidate for re-election.

His mandate, as he recently underlined, was marked by the conflicts in Yemen and Ukraine.

Accustomed to going to the front, he visited bombed-out Ukrainian hospitals.

“Much more than pandemics, war undermines and destroys the foundations on which previously stable societies rest” and conflicts leave “psychological scars that can take years or decades to heal,” said Tedros recently, for whom “peace It is essential for health.”

It is something that he lived in his own flesh.

“I am a child of war,” Tedros said at the opening of the 75th World Health Assembly, which brings together the organization’s member states.

fear and pain

“I was in the middle of the war when I was very young,” Tedros said.

When her mother heard gunshots at night “she made us sleep under the bed (…) in the hope that we would be protected if a shell fell on our house.”

Years later, when war flared up in Ethiopia in 1998, “this fear” returned when it was her children’s turn to “hide in a bunker.”

“Not only am I a child of war, but it follows me everywhere.”

His childhood was also marked by the death of a brother due to lack of medication.

Ethiopia and the United States

Tedros is highly appreciated, especially by Africans, for having made the international community look more towards that continent, especially during the pandemic.

However, his own country accused him of having “abused his functions” after comments on the humanitarian situation in Tigray.

The arrival of Democrat Joe Biden in the White House, which marked the return of the United States to the WHO, gave it a new impetus after being constantly attacked by Donald Trump, who had cut funding to the organization, which he accused of mismanage the pandemic.

Tedros’s critical tone towards China, which he believes is not transparent enough about the origin of the pandemic, has earned him some rebukes from Beijing, but the Asian giant still supports his re-election.

A sexual violence scandal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo involving employees of his organization earned him a salvo of criticism from several member countries, who felt his response was too soft.

After a first mandate marked by covid, which exposed the failures of the WHO, Tedros will have to win the challenge of reinforcing the UN agency, especially to better prevent and manage future epidemics.

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