Tedros Adhanam Ghebreissas, who on Tuesday vowed to secure a second term as head of the WHO, described himself as a man of peace, shaped by childhood in war.
The first African to head the World Health Organization and the only candidate on the ballot for the next five-year term has become a familiar face as he has led the global response to the coronavirus epidemic.
While Kovid and other epidemic threats continue to be clearly featured in his speech, in Tuesday’s election race, Tedros is increasingly focused on heavy toll wars and conflicts such as Ukraine that are taking global health.
“More than an epidemic, war shakes and shatters the foundations on which previously stable societies stood,” the 57-year-old former Ethiopian health and foreign minister said on the first day of the WHO’s main annual meeting on Sunday.
“And it leaves a psychological scar that can take years or decades to heal,” he said, adding that he had first-hand experience.
“I’m a child of war,” he said, the emotion evident in his voice.
Pain and loss
“The sound of gunfire and gunfire in the air; the smell of smoke after they hit; the tracer bullets in the night sky … these things have stayed with me for a lifetime, because I was very young when I was in the middle of the war.”
Years later, in 1998, when the war returned to Ethiopia, “I felt the same fear as a parent … and my children had to hide in a bunker to take refuge from the bombing.”
And, he said, “I feel the same pain and loss again now,” with the conflict that has been raging in his home region of Tigris since the end of 2020.
“It’s not just the children of war who are following me,” Tedros said.
One thing was clear, he said: “Wherever war goes, hunger and disease soon recede.”
The world community cannot properly address the mountain of health emergencies and challenges, including the Kovid-19 crisis and the emerging epidemic threat in the “divided world”.
Peace is a “prerequisite for health.”
It’s a message he’s keen to push when he’s preparing to work a second term.
There will be a secret-ballot vote at the World Health Assembly on Tuesday, but without any other candidate contesting, Tedros’ victory is essentially a pre-determined conclusion.
His first term in office was tumultuous, as he took a long line not only with the global response to the epidemic but also with other crises, including the sexual abuse scandal involving WHO workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Although Tedros has faced criticism for his part, he has received widespread support.
African countries have been particularly pleased with his relentless campaign for attention to the continent and for a fair share of the covid vaccine for poor countries.
Since the arrival of President Joe Biden at the White House, Tedros has also enjoyed support in Washington.
It marked a major turning point since the beginning of the epidemic, when Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump began pulling the United States out of the WHO, accusing it of being a puppet of Beijing and helping to cover up the initial outbreak.
Ironically, the main source of opposition came from Tedros’ own country.
Angered by his comments about the dire humanitarian situation in Tigre, the Ethiopian government accused him of promoting “abuse of office”.
There seems to be little traction in these arguments, however, and there should be no difficulty in ensuring Tedros gets at least two-thirds of the vote as needed on Tuesday.
There will be no shortage of challenges in his second term, with the Covid-19 epidemic still growing and demanding dramatic reforms of the entire world health system to help avoid similar threats going forward.
And new health risks have already emerged, including hepatitis of mysterious origin that has made children sick in many countries, and swollen numbers in the case of monkeys far from Central and West Africa where the disease is usually concentrated.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)