Born In: Asmara, Eritrea
Tedros Adhanom is an Ethiopian public health official and researcher who is currently serving his second term as Director-General of the World Health Organization after first being appointed in 2017 and is the first African to hold the position. He previously held high-profile government posts in Ethiopia including Minister of Health from 2005 to 2012 and Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2012 to 2016. During his tenure in the ministry, he reformed the healthcare workforce and contributed significantly in accelerating progress against diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, apart from reducing maternal mortality and child mortality rates. He has played key roles in the WHO’s response to the Ebola virus epidemic, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing 2022 monkeypox outbreak. However, he was severely criticized after he praised China for its containment measures during the COVID-19 pandemic for overlooking affronts to human rights, including censorship and repression. During his tenure, the US President Donald Trump cut the country’s funding to the organization. The Ethiopian government also demanded that WHO investigated him for soliciting support for the Tigray People's Liberation Front, which he denied.
father: Adhanom Gebreyesus
mother: Melashu Weldegabir
Born Country: Eritrea
Notable Alumni: Umeå University
education: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, University of London, University of Nottingham, Umeå University
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was born on March 3, 1965, in Asmara, Eritrea, at that time part of the Ethiopian Empire, to Adhanom Gebreyesus and Melashu Weldegabir, and grew up in the Enderta awrajja of Tigray. As a child, he witnessed his younger brother’s death at the age of 3 or 4 years, possibly of a preventable disease like measles, which had major influence on his later views.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Asmara in 1986 and went to study at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He completed his master’s degree in immunology of infectious diseases from the University of London in 1992.
Thereafter, he obtained a Doctor of Philosophy in community health from the University of Nottingham. His thesis paper was on the effects of dams on malaria transmission in Tigray Region, northern Ethiopia, and appropriate control measures.
Shortly after completing his bachelor’s degree in 1986, Tedros Adhanom joined the Ethiopian Ministry of Health as a junior public health expert. During this period, he was a member of the Tigray People's Liberation Front, which led the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front in a successful bid to overthrow Ethiopia's Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.
He became the head of the Tigray Regional Health Bureau in 2001 and his contribution was recognized by the Ethiopian Public Health Association in 2003 with the prestigious “Young Public Health Researcher Award”. He was appointed State Minister of Health in 2004, and one year later in October 2005, was promoted to Minister of Health of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Within his first few years as a minister, he reformed the health workforce, which resulted in the training and deployment of thousands of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory technologists and health officers. He was also very active in global health initiatives, making Ethiopia the first country to sign a compact with the International Health Partnership and served as vice-president of the 60th World Health Assembly in 2007.
He was elected board chair of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in July 2009 for a two-year term, and under his leadership, Ethiopia was named as an exemplary high-performing country. As a minister, he oversaw a program introducing 30,000 health extension workers who provided skilled delivery service to expectant mothers, thus reducing maternal mortality and child mortality rates significantly.
He included tuberculosis prevention and treatment services in health extension workers’ packages and was further able to reduce deaths from malaria by more than 50% between 2005 and 2007. During his tenure, the ministry also turned around Ethiopia's record of the highest number of new HIV infections in Africa, reducing infections by 90% and bringing down AIDS-related deaths by 53%.
He was appointed Ethiopia's Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2012 as part of Hailemariam Desalegn's cabinet reshuffle after he was approved by the EPRDF as party leader. In this position, he was instrumental in drafting part of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) in which the attending countries committed to financing for the Sustainable Development Goals.
He subsequently played a pivotal leadership role in the African Union's response to the 2013–2016 Western African Ebola virus epidemic, urging countries to implement International Health Regulations adhering to the WHO guidelines. As controversy intensified over the under-construction Hidase Dam in 2013 over differing opinions from Egypt and Ethiopia on the report of the International Panel of Experts, he reassured Egypt regarding water security concerns.
In May 2016, he announced his candidacy for the director-general post of the World Health Organization as the sole African candidate and was endorsed by the African Union and Ministers of Health of the continent. Despite opposition from several Ethiopian parties for his past involvement in the Tigray People's Liberation Front and a “last-minute smear campaign” by rival candidate David Nabarro’s adviser, he was named Director-General of WHO in 2017.
He quickly identified universal health coverage as his top priority at the WHO and was praised for his commitment to gender equality after appointing 60% women in his senior leadership team. However, he was criticized for a lack of transparency in his appointments and was later accused of soliciting support for the Tigray People's Liberation Front during the 2020 Tigray conflict.
He oversaw the WHO's management during the Kivu Ebola epidemic in 2018 and travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo several times to not only evaluate the situation, but to also talk to government leaders. He also rushed to Beijing at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and employed a strategy of coaxing China to transparency and international co-operation by praising China’s outbreak control measures.
However, he was criticized for this by health experts who noted that China had mismanaged the disease early on and even arrested health workers who first raised alarms about the outbreak. Interestingly, in May 2022, he commented that China’s zero-COVID strategy was no longer considered sustainable, but the comment was suppressed on the Chinese Internet.
After Russia started invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he opined that the attention given to the conflict was significantly larger than other crises in Ethiopia, Yemen, Syria or Afghanistan. In July 2022, he declared that the monkeypox outbreak was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern despite support from only six experts and opposition from as many as nine.
He announced plans for seeking re-appointment to the post in May 2021 and was nominated by 28 nations by October that year for a further term. As no opposing candidate chose to contest, he was re-appointed unopposed on May 24, 2022 for a term that began on August 16, 2022.
Tedros Adhanom is a married family man who lives with his wife and five children in Ethiopia. He is an Orthodox Christian who, once after being criticized for saying “inshallah”, clarified that he meant to emphasize the peaceful side of Islam as opposed to the ideology of some radicals.
Tedros Adhanom was included in Time magazine’s list of “100 Most Influential People of 2020”.
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