Attacks On WHO Candidate Are Defamatory, ‘Colonial’, Ambassador Says

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The African Union delegation to the United Nations came in outspoken numbers to a press briefing today to express unshakable support for the Ethiopian candidate to be the next head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Asked about recent allegations in the press about Tedros’ part in a coverup of cholera epidemics in his country, the African ambassadors said those were defamatory allegations, done in desperation by a nervous competing candidate. Without citing which of the other two candidates that might be, an African ambassador said such attempt at destabilising the candidate reflects a “colonial mentality.” Tedros, as he is known, was not at the press briefing.

Negash Kebret Botora, Ethiopian ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva

The election is expected to take place on 23 May, the second day of the annual World Health Assembly (IPW, WHO, 12 May 2017).

Tedros was described by a group of African ambassadors as being in the best position to implement needed reforms at the WHO, and as having a unique mix of scientific and diplomatic skills. The ambassadors explained they are on a campaign to support Tedros, and are approaching other ambassadors.

The AU delegation to the UN today issued a declaration [pdf] (in French) in support of Tedros.

The ambassadors underlined the fact that the WHO has never had a WHO director general from the African continent, and Tedros is also the only one of the candidates to be a former health minister.

A number of African ambassadors were present, including Ethiopia, Mozambique, Chad, Rwanda, Central African Republic, and Mali, as well as the ambassador and permanent representative of the African Union to the UN.

Asked why Tedros would be the best candidate, the Rwandan ambassador said the continent aligned itself behind a candidate after a thorough examination. No country would stand behind a candidate in whom it does not believe, he said.

This is not a “complacency candidacy,” the ambassador from Chad added.

An embarrassing article published this week by the New York Times, alleging that Tedros had covered up cholera epidemics in his country, was characterised by the ambassadors present at the press briefing as an unfounded and unverified defamation campaign, conveniently coming out only days before the election.

The Mozambique ambassador said that when one candidate resorts to denigrating and attributing to other candidates things that are untrue, “we know that that campaign is in despair, to say the least.”

“People do not like campaigns that are misrepresenting other people,” he added. The ambassador did not say which candidate that might be, but there are only two other candidates, David Nabarro of the United Kingdom and Sania Nishtar of Pakistan.

“We know for sure that Tedros is a man of integrity, full of human qualities, and has done his job in a most devoted manner,” and he deserves to be the next director general of WHO, he insisted.

The Ethiopian ambassador said the New York Times article is a “smear campaign” against the African candidate “aimed at winning at any cost.” Those allegations are “hitting below the belt,” he said bluntly and are trying “to discredit an accomplished African candidate with a kind of a colonial mentality,” adding, “I think you know what I am saying.”

The Central African Republic ambassador said, “Dr Tedros is the product of Africa and the product of a consensus.” The WHO is not the patrimony of one continent, or one country, he said.

One of the ambassadors said that any attack against Tedros is an attack against Africa.

Tedro’s Projected Reforms

The Mozambique ambassador mentioned a few reforms that Tedros is set on starting if he is elected next week.

He said the candidate would build the WHO into a more effective, transparent and accountable agency, which would be science and innovation-based, and focused on results.

Another priority area would be to follow the objective of health for all, and strengthen the capacity of WHO and of national authorities.

A particular focus would be on women, children and adolescents, he said, adding that another reform would concern the impact of climate change on human health.

“What we want,” he said, is a more effective organisation that answers challenges for the world.


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