Opinion: Is the future of global health safe with Dr. Tedros?

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization. Photo by: Devra Berkowitz / U.N.

Raising two kids can be terrifying in this tumultuous world of ours. My rational side offers some consolation because some metrics show that 2017 was a healthier year for children than any year before. Globally, the under-five mortality rate reached a 53 percent reduction since 2000, more than 91 percent of primary school-age children were enrolled in school, and millions fewer children suffered from undernutrition.

Yet my parental instinct reiterates the fact that we simply cannot ignore the evolving and urgent dangers that threaten our most beloved. Despite the great progress that has been made — particularly in the global health arena — it is absolutely essential to support effective leadership that is capable of responding to the immense global health challenges that we face today.

On May 23, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was elected as the director-general of the World Health Organization. And though I did not support Dr. Tedros’ bid — in fact, I campaigned for Dr. Nabarro — I now call on all of us to support him. The global health challenges we face today are so immense, so complex, that it would be a mistake to be complacent about the journey Dr. Tedros is embarking upon. A strong, not obsolete, WHO is needed more than ever right now.

Maybe that’s the mother in me surfacing — and maybe I’m inclined to worry — but as Dr. Tedros takes the helm at WHO, our world and its people stand at a crucial tipping point for survival and his leadership is absolutely critical. Changing climates, drug resistant superbugs, malnutrition and the constant threat of nation-crippling disease outbreaks all stand to define the world our children will inherit. For their sake, and for the sake of the billions of people living in vulnerable nations across the global south, I strongly hope he will focus on the following key points that greatly defined my support for Dr. Nabarro’s candidacy.

WHO alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals

The global community has set very ambitious but achievable goals for a more peaceful, equitable, and prosperous future within communities and nations. Health is central to the achievement of the SDGs. Dr. Tedros must be ready to ensure that the WHO is well-positioned to achieve these goals by encouraging a horizontal, cross-disciplinary, collaborative environment that yields measurable results.

Making the agency fit for purpose to respond to outbreaks and health emergencies

Ebola’s indiscriminate path of destruction still smolders in the communities and health systems it ravaged. In times of outbreaks and health emergencies, the world looks towards the WHO to exercise leadership by providing unparalleled technical expertise that enables people on the ground to act effectively. Dr. Tedros has to be ready and committed to solidify the WHO’s capacity to respond to any disease outbreak or health emergency.

Trusted engagement with member states

National decision-makers have a duty to promote the health of their people, but healthier communities and nations cannot be realized without the full engagement of civil society, health professionals, and decisive government leadership. The WHO needs to be a trusted partner of all governments while holding itself responsible to the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind. Dr. Tedros must ensure that the WHO engages with Member States in ways that are respectful and reliable, consistent, transparent, and accountable.

People-centered health policies

People, not diseases, must be at the center of policies for health. Programs and policies need to be designed not just to save lives, but to improve them. An effective WHO has to reestablish itself as a vehicle that provides consistent support to improve the capabilities and circumstances of care providers and the people they serve.

The responsibility for the world's health is possibly one of the loneliest jobs in the world, one that few would relish. Dr. Tedros will be faced with decisions every single day that could improve or destroy the lives of thousands, or even millions, of people. Impact will often be less tangible than setbacks and divisiveness over the role of a global community grows more profound by the day.  

The future of global health will impact every aspect of the world our children will inherit. It will determine economic growth, reduction of poverty, and be key for political stability and global security. The world needs a strong and fully funded WHO more than ever, and Dr. Tedros will need everyone’s support to succeed.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Claudia González Romo

    Claudia González Romo is a special adviser for UNICEF and also UNICEF’s global chief of public advocacy. Previously she was seconded to the Executive Office of the Secretary General of the United Nations, to lead communications for the special adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change.