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Ethiopia’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus becomes first African Director General of WHO

Just ahead of African Union Day,  Member States of the (World Health Organization (WHO) have elected Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as the new Director-General of WHO. This is the first African Director General in the 69 years of WHO.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was nominated by the Government of Ethiopia, and will begin his five-year term on 1 July 2017.

Prior to his election as WHO’s next Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia from 2012–2016 and as Minister of Health, Ethiopia from 2005–2012. He has also served as chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; as chair of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership Board; and as co-chair of the Board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

As Minister of Health, Ethiopia, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus led a comprehensive reform effort of the country’s health system, including the expansion of the country’s health infrastructure, creating 3500 health centres and 16 000 health posts; expanded the health workforce by 38 000 health extension workers; and initiated financing mechanisms to expand health insurance coverage. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, he led the effort to negotiate the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, in which 193 countries committed to the financing necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

As Chair of the Global Fund and of RBM, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus secured record funding for the two organizations and created the Global Malaria Action Plan, which expanded RBM’s reach beyond Africa to Asia and Latin America.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will succeed Dr Margaret Chan, who has been WHO’s Director-General since 1 January 2007.

The appointment comes at a time when it has been revealed  the World Health Organization reportedly spent more money last year on traveling around the globe, than they did on actually combating the world’s illnesses.

The health agency spent approximately $200 million on plane tickets, hotel accommodation and other travel expenses—more than its combined spending to tackle AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and hepatitis, according to an investigation by the Associated Press on May 21.

The organization may be a global entity, but it is funded by taxpayers via states’ contributions to the United Nations. The allegations around WHO’s travel spending are hard to reconcile when considering its increasingly desperate pleas for donor funding.

The investigation reveals that outgoing director-general Dr. Margaret Chan apparently preferred to fly and stay in luxury (Chan has headed the organization since November 2006). Just this month, Chan travelled to Guinea to celebrate the end of the Ebola virus outbreak there, and stayed at the presidential suite of the Palm Camayenne hotel, known for its “discreet luxury” at $1,008 a night. WHO intimated that the host country may have covered the hotel bill, which brings little comfort since Guinea’s health budget was depleted by the Ebola outbreak.

WHO denied Chan preferred first class, saying that she introduced a policy to restrict travel to business class for flights over nine hours long. WHO said Chan gets the same daily stipend as everyone else: €212, nearly $240. Last year, WHO spent $78 million staff travel, “roughly the same” as other UN agencies, WHO said in an email to Quartz.