Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus elected new Director-General of the WHO

05 July 2017
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Image Source: Reuters

“Health is a rights issue, an end in itself. And universal health coverage should be at the center, and it has to be tailored to the needs of the countries…addressing challenges we are facing with regard to the barriers to equality, access to quality of care and diagnosis.” –Dr. Tedros at a WHO press conference, May 24th 2017.

From May 22-31, 2017, the world’s global health leaders convened at the 70th Session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland and Rabin Martin was on the ground supporting our clients and facilitating conversations around some of the most pressing global health issues.

The biggest news this year was the election of a new Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Formerly the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Health, Dr. Tedros is the first Director-General from Africa, and the first Director-General to be elected directly by the WHA. He begins his five-year term on July 1, 2017, taking over from Dr. Margaret Chan, who had held the position for ten years.

Key themes emerging from WHA this year:


  • Global Health Security: Member States called for the development of a five-year global strategic plan for public health preparedness and response. The delegations assessed the global health community’s response to global health emergencies and epidemics, acknowledging strengths in the WHO’s responsiveness to such outbreaks, but that these gains are “fragile.” They expressed the need for improved surveillance and resource mobilization.
  • Health Systems Strengthening: With the election of Dr. Tedros as the Director-General, universal healthcare coverage will continue to be a high priority. A public-private mechanism for prioritizing universal health coverage that has been gaining momentum is the “UHC 2030” global compact. New signatories included the governments of Chile, Indonesia, Thailand, South Africa, as well as the OECD, Rockefeller Foundation, United Nations Foundation and various private sector members. Other key focus areas will be addressing the shortage of global health workers and promoting the health of refugees and migrants.
  • Access to Medicines: Delegates adopted a resolution to continue the efforts of the Global Vaccine Action Plan in expanding access to vital immunizations by 2020. More contentious were recommendations made in the UN High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines report, released back in September 2016. Countries such as India called for further discussion of the report, while the U.S., UK and Japan called instead for a broader debate on systemic issues impeding enhanced access to medicines at the national level. Engagement with the pharmaceutical industry on access issues is likely to continue to be an important issue under Dr. Tedros’ tenure at the WHO.
  • Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs): Delegates endorsed interventions to help countries meet global targets for prevention and control of NCDs, as well as measures to improve and scale up prevention, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care for cancer. Interventions to improve management and control of NCDs include providing drug therapy for diabetes and hypertension, counselling for people who have had a heart attack or stroke or those at high risk of a cardiovascular event, and cervical cancer screening for women.


For more, see the WHO’s archive of World Health Assembly speeches and videos.

WHA may be over for the year, but Rabin Martin is already preparing for the next big global health event: The United Nations General Assembly, to be held from September 12-25, 2017, in New York City. Side events during the UNGA provide an opportunity for the private sector to engage with global health stakeholders on key issues, increase visibility and promote leadership. We’ll be sharing more information on sessions and themes at this year’s conference in the coming weeks.

Interested in engaging in the dialogue at UNGA? Contact us.

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