Namibia welcomes new WHO director-general

By Lahja Nashuuta

WINDHOEK – Namibia is among various African countries and the world over to congratulate Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on his appointment as the new Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Ethiopian national is the first African to lead the United Nations’ global health agency in its almost 70-year history. He replaces Dr Margaret Chan, a Hong Kong-Canadian national who has been at the helm of the World Health Organisation since January 2007.

He was voted on May 23, during a closed door voting session in Geneva by health ministers from 186 UN member countries who cast their votes in secret. After three rounds of secret ballot, Tedros emerged as the winner with 133 votes against 50 votes for the British candidate, Dr David Nabarro.

The Namibia Government, through the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation, has welcomed the appointment of Dr Ghebreyesus saying it looks forward to working with him.

“Dr. Tedros’ sterling and exemplary leadership for better health in Ethiopia is globally recognised. He was the chief architect of that country’s very successful health extension programme, which Namibia has been privileged to learn and draw lessons from.

“The Government of Namibia is convinced that Dr Tedros, with his vast experience, especially as former Minister of Health and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, will be a Director-General par excellence, who will build on the successes of his predecessor, Dr Margaret Chan,” Selma Ashipala-Musavyi, permanent secretary at the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation said in a statement.

The government said it was looking forward to closely cooperating with him especially considering the pledge he made during his victory statement, outlining his “central priority” as geared towards “working to achieve universal health coverage”, to “provide value for money” and a reform of the UN agency.

Ashipala-Musavyi noted that the victory comes following two years of campaigning, whereby Ghebreyesus  received the full support of African Union member states and many other countries from all corners of the world including, Namibia.

Ghebreyesus will begin his five-year tenure on 1 July 2017. Prior to his elevation, he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia from 2012–2016 and as Minister of Health from 2005–2012.

He is former chair of several boards of health organisations, including the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership as well as co-chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

During his tenure as health minister, he led a comprehensive reform effort of Ethiopia’s health system, including the expansion of the country’s health infrastructure, creating 3,500 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 per WHO regulations.

He further 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, while he was Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The new WHO chief vowed to focus his energy on assisting the needy, and cultivating an effective partnerships with health care providers, thus underscoring his conviction that “all roads lead to universal health coverage”.

In a statement, issued by WHO, he promised to work tirelessly to ensure universal health coverage is and remains a top priority at the highest political levels possible. “We will ensure lessons and experiences –positive and negative – are shared across countries and regions. And we will work in close partnerships with countries and regions to help them tailor their programmes to their specific needs,” he said.

Namibia’s former Health Minister and E8 Ambassador Dr Richard Kamwi also express support toward Ghebreyesus Tedros.

Kamwi is quoted by The Patriot newspaper stating that: “We believe that attainment of malaria elimination and freedom from the burden of this disease is a key factor in realising this vision, and stand fully behind the new Director General and the WHO in achieving this goal”.

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