Dr Tedros was elected on 23 May 2017, by vote of Member States at the Seventieth World Health Assembly. He is the first African Director-General in the history of the WHO.
The new Director-General identified Universal Health Coverage (UHC) – Health for All as his top priority. He notes on his Director General webpage on the WHO site: “Our top priority must be to support national health authorities’ efforts to strengthen all the building blocks of health systems and to enact policies aimed at ensuring health care is equitable and affordable for all.”
Other priorities include: health emergencies; women, children and adolescents; climate and environmental change; and a transformed WHO.
Prior to his election as WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros served from 2012–2016 as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia. In this role he 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.
Dr Tedros served as Minister of Health in Ethiopia from 2005–2012 where he led a comprehensive reform effort of the country’s health system, including the expansion of the country’s health infrastructure. He has also served as chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; as chair of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership Board; and as co-chair of the Board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.
The Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WHPCA), the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (IAHPC) and the International Children’s Palliative Care Network (ICPCN) sent a letter to Dr Tedros, congratulating him on his appointment and reaffirming their commitment to supporting WHO in advancing global health.
The authors noted in the letter: “We welcome your long-standing experience, deep knowledge and understanding of the African and global health context, and in particular your commitment to the achievement of Universal Health Coverage.”
They went on to state the importance of palliative care as an essential, defining aspect of UHC, and requested Dr Tedros’ support in four key areas:
- Promote the adequate funding, implementation and monitoring of World Health Assembly Resolution 67/19 on palliative care.
- Advocate for urgent attention to palliative care as an essential health service within Universal Health Coverage.
- In line with WHA 67/19, ensure that WHO includes palliative care in all relevant global health plans and their implementation.
- Ensure WHO’s continued and increased focus and funded commitment on access to essential medicines, including to essential palliative care medications and paediatric formulations, necessary for the treatment of severe pain and terminal breathlessness.
The Director-General is WHO’s chief technical and administrative officer and oversees the policy for the Organization’s international health work.
Dr Liz Gwyther, Chair of the Board of Trustees of The Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance, said: “Congratulations to Dr Tedros on his appointment as DG of the WHO. His experience and understanding of issues facing the developing world will provide a strong foundation for the implementation of practical solutions to health problems and to addressing the social, economic and political determinants of health.
“He has declared his commitment to Universal Health Coverage which gives expression to the Right to Health and offers everyone access to promotive, preventative, curative, rehabilitative and palliative healthcare without financial hardship.
“We are also encouraged by his determination to prioritise the health and well-being of women, children and adolescents and to his commitment to meeting health needs of vulnerable people.”
The letter was co-signed by 50 organisations from around the world working in palliative care and related fields, such as dementia and cancer care, as well as representatives of academic institutions and major funders.
The full letter is available to view on the WHPCA website.