WHO chooses Dr. Tedros Adhanom, first African to head the global health agency

Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference launching his candidacy to the post of Director General of World Health Organization (WHO), on the sidelines of the WHO’s annual assembly, on May 24, 2016, in Geneva.
Delegates from 194 member-states gather for the second day of the WHO’s annual assembly, with the UN agency’s chief Margaret Chan warning in an opening address that the world was not prepared to cope with a rising threat from infectious diseases. / AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

The governing body of the World Health Organization on Tuesday elected Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian health minister, to head the global health agency responsible for marshaling the international response to infectious disease epidemics such as Ebola and Zika.

He is the first WHO director-general from Africa.

During the third and final round of balloting in Geneva, members of the World Health Assembly voted 133 to 50 to pick Tedros, as he is known, to be the next director-general, according to unofficial tallies. Cheers broke out, observers said, as he beat out David Nabarro, a 67-year-old physician and longtime United Nations official from Britain, and Sania Nishtar, a 54-year-old cardiologist from Pakistan. It was the first time member states took part in a secret ballot that gave each member state an equal vote. In the past, leaders were chosen by an executive board and voting took place behind closed doors. Nishtar was eliminated during the first round of voting.

There were 186 member states eligible to cast ballots. Eight others had not paid their dues in time or were not represented at the 10-day gathering. In the final round of voting, there were two abstentions, observers said.

Tedros told the delegates that it was “pure luck” that he was competing to lead the WHO, noting that when he was growing up in Ethiopia, he was seven years old when his younger brother was killed by a common childhood disease and that it could easily have been him. “While WHO has never had a director from Africa, no one should elect me because I am from Africa,” he said. Observers tweeted that Ethiopian delegates could be seen hugging and high-fiving one another after their countryman made it to the second round, which Tedros went on to win with 121 votes versus Nabarro’s 62.

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