The World Health Organization has said that its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is running unopposed for a second five-year term.
Tedros, 56, the first African to head the United Nations health agency, has overseen its complex response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has overshadowed his tenure. Trained in biology and infectious diseases with a doctorate in community health, he is also the first WHO chief who is not a medical doctor.
“A single candidate was proposed by member states by the September 23, 2021 deadline: Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,” the WHO said in a statement on Friday.
The UN health agency made the announcement after the deadline for candidacies for the next term expired last month and Tedros’s name was proposed by 28 countries: more than half of the European, and three African: Botswana, Kenya and Rwanda.
The formal selection of the next director-general takes place at the WHO’s next assembly in May.
Former health and foreign minister from Ethiopia, Tedros – who goes by his first name – received a strong endorsement when France and Germany announced their support for him shortly after the nomination period closed.
Germany and Spain’s nominations said strengthening the WHO in the wake of the pandemic “must continue with full and undivided commitment”, saying the organisation needed “strong, pragmatic and visionary leadership”.
Tedros has repeatedly aired concerns about the deadly Tigray conflict in Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian government shunned his candidacy over his criticism and positions in the former Tigrayan-dominated national government. It has accused him of supporting the rival Tigray forces.
Moreover, his leadership was criticised by former US President Donald Trump, who began pulling the United States out of the WHO, accusing it of being Beijing’s puppet and covering up the outbreak of the virus.
Trump’s successor Joe Biden halted the withdrawal, while Tedros has also irked China by demanding greater transparency over the pandemic outbreak and putting a renewed focus on the possibility that it may have leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.
Tedros has also been a leading voice urging wealthy countries with large COVID-19 vaccine stockpiles and the big pharmaceutical companies that make them do more to improve access to the jabs in the developing world – a call that has largely gone unheeded.
He has also called for a moratorium on booster shots so that more doses could be made available quicker to poorer countries, which has also mostly fallen on deaf ears.
WHO says more than 60 countries are now administering about one million booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines each day – about three times the number of first-time vaccine doses being administered daily in lower-income countries.
In recent weeks, WHO has faced mounting pressure over revelations in September from two independent experts who found that 21 WHO workers were accused of sexually abusing people during the agency’s response to an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2018 and 2010, out of a total of 83 alleged perpetrators connected to the mission.
The Code Blue Campaign, which campaigns to end sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers and other staffers, called that the largest finding ever of sexual abuse in a single UN initiative in a single country or time period.
On Thursday, European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, said it had temporarily suspended payments that fund WHO humanitarian operations in the DRC in the wake of the revelations – a move that could affect millions of euros used for programmes like emergency response, polio eradication and pandemic response in the African country.