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For First Time Ever, African National Will Lead the WHO

Being the “guardian of global health” would be no small feat in a world where around 1.5 million die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases, 2 million still die from tuberculosis and 6.6 million children die under the age of 5 every year, largely because they can’t access basic needs like clean water and medication.

Which is why the global health community has been avidly waiting to hear who was going to be the next director general of the World Health Organization (WHO). After a two year long campaign, it was finally announced today that the role has been given to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia, the first ever African to head the agency.

From his impressive history of successes, it seems Tedros is more than equipped for the highest ranking health-related role in the world — a role capable of turning the tide on epidemics.

During his time as Ethiopia’s health minister, Tedros has drastically cut deaths from malaria, AIDs, tuberculosis, and neonatal problems. He also trained 40,000 female health workers, hired outbreak investigators and increased the number of medical school graduates in the country by 10 times.

Global Citizen has also had firsthand experience of Tedros’s effectiveness. Back in 2013, he announced on the Global Citizen Festival Stage in Central Park in New York that he would rapidly increase the number of health workers deployed throughout his country. And indeed in a very short space of time he increased the number of health-workers in the country from virtually nothing to 40,000 by the end of his tenure, greatly improving the population’s access to healthcare.

Yet his career has not been without controversy — during his time as health minister, he was accused of covering up an outbreak of cholera in his country, a claim that Tedros’s representatives deny. And others have implied he has been complicit in human rights infractions conducted by his political party in Ethiopia.

Most critically, though, the question will be whether Tedros can be the salesman that the WHO needs right now to turn around its current reputation. The organization currently receives only mediocre rankings from donor agencies and is drastically underfunded. Perhaps Tedros will be able to pull on his experience as chair of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which managed to raise nearly $13 billion last year.

We hope for great things from Tedros — a man who speaks passionately to the inexcusable disparity of health care between the developed and developing world.

Which is why we are calling on the new director general, on behalf of the 2 million that die every year from tuberculosis in the world’s poorest countries, to put this deadly disease on the priority list and thus ensure it gets the attention and funding required to reduce its devastating and entirely preventable death toll.

Global Citizens are counting on you,Tedros.