By Emma Farge, Francesco Guarascio and Giulia Paravicini
GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization’s chief looks set to run unopposed for a second term at the helm as tries to guide the world through its biggest health crisis in a century, sources said.
According to sources, Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus does not have the support of Ethiopians due to the Tigray conflict.
The sources said they were unsure of how he would be nominated in the face of opposition from Addis Ababa’s government.
Tedros, an Ethiopian ex-health minister from Tigray in the Tigray Region was appointed the WHO’s first African director general in 2017.
Tedros has led the WHO through multiple Ebola epidemics and the COVID-19 pandemic. He also survived harsh criticisms from Trump’s administration as being too China-centric.
Although he did not make public his intention to run for another five-year term and said that he wanted to focus on the pandemic rather than Ebola, sources say that he is currently the only candidate.
Due to the confidentiality of this process, they declined to identify themselves.
One source who was directly familiar with the elections said that Tedros was “certainly a candidate” adding that no alternate candidate existed at this time.
Two senior Ethiopian officials confirmed to Reuters that Tedros, who an Ethiopian general called a “criminal”, and was accused of trying procure weapons to Tigrayan troops, is unlikely to be nominated.
Billene Seyoum is the spokeswoman for the prime minister. Dina Mufti is the spokesperson for Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Tedros described Tigray’s situation as “horrific”. He regularly tweets about it, but denies being involved in any conflict.
Two sources confirmed that consultations are ongoing, including with African countries to determine who will be proposing his candidacy for the September 23 deadline.
Formal submissions are confidential so it is not possible to verify whether Tedros submitted a formal request.
A request for comments was not received by the WHO. They do not require that any candidate be presented by their country, only that they must submit the application by one of its 194 member countries.
Official appointment will take place at the World Health Assembly in May 2022.
Ethiopia’s opposition to Tedros places some African nations in a quandary. The second largest nation in Africa is also a major diplomatic power and host to the African Union Headquarters. Its military is a peacekeeper in South Sudan, Somalia, and Sudan.
Tedros will not have the African Union’s unanimous backing this time around due to its influence, however diplomats claim that he has the support of some African countries.
Macharia Kamau (principal secretary at Kenya’s foreign minister) told Reuters that Kenya will support Tedros’ re-nomination.
Kamau replied to Reuters when Kamau was asked who would nominate Tedros.
Okello Oryem (the Ugandan state minister for foreign relations) called Tedros “an older friend”. Kampala was currently in consultation with East African governments to discuss Tedros’ nomination. According to Tedros, “If all of his friends are supportive then we’ll vote for him.”
Tedros is seen as a voice for Africa in a difficult forum – arguing passionately for greater access to COVID-19 vaccines for Africa and against vaccine passports, which many African nations fear would curtail the movement of their citizens, who still struggle to access vaccines that are plentiful in the West.
Sources following the election indicated that Tedros could be nominated in any country outside of Africa.
VIRUS ORIGINS, REFORM
In 2016-2017, Tedros competed against five other international health experts in the last WHO election.
The possibility of Tedros being reelected is an assessment of how his agency handled the pandemic, which was harshly criticised under former U.S. president Donald Trump.
He will be responsible for overseeing the next phase of investigations into China’s coronavirus origins and a possible overhaul of WHO amid concern about the agency’s resources and ability to handle a pandemic.
Trump accused Tedros’ and WHO of being China-centric. They denied the allegations. The Trump administration also stopped U.S. funding to the WHO while they were leaving.
After taking office in January, the Biden administration declared that it would continue to be a member of the WHO and fulfill its financial obligations as well as working on reforms.
These reforms might lead to an overhaul of the agency. A new global system to quickly respond to epidemics of disease should also be one of the May recommendations by an independent panel. This will help to prevent a future pandemic like COVID-19.