At the beginning of the year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) set a target to vaccinate health workers and vulnerable groups against COVID-19 in 100 days.
And at the helm of the commitment is the Ethiopian biologist, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the General Director of WHO now faced with the challenge to save the world from a pandemic.
When he assumed the top WHO post in 2017 Dr. Tedros Andhanom, backed by the African Union had a vision. “Together, we will save and improve the lives of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, this is my most solemn commitment.”
Dr. Tedros Andhanom served in the Ethiopian government as the minister of health from 2005 to 2012 and later as foreign affairs minister until 2016. He is recognised for leading Ethiopia in the fight against HIV infections, reducing child mortality, malaria mortality, and deaths from tuberculosis.
His vision, as the WHO leader, was to face perhaps his biggest challenge, when COVID-19 began. “We are deeply concerned both by the alarming level of spread and severity and the alarming levels of infection. We have therefore made an assessment that COVID -19 can be characterised as a pandemic.”
Since February last year, Dr. Adhanom has had a daunting task marred by criticism. Former US President Donald Trump blamed him for allegedly supporting China in delaying to declare COVID-19, a global health emergency. This was followed by a decision by the US government to stop funding the WHO from May this year.
There was more criticism of Dr. Adhanom’s organisation following the findings presented by the WHO team that visited China this year to investigate the possible origin of the virus. Their findings, that the virus was not processed in a lab and could have jumped from a human to animals, were not fully welcomed globally.
But the WHO boss insists now that the vaccines are being manufactured, the focus should be more on ensuring the pandemic is controlled.
“Vaccine equity is especially important for fragile and vulnerable groups and for small island states like those in the pacific and the Caribbean with small populations, who can miss out on vaccines because they have less bargaining power than bigger countries… everywhere means everywhere, nowhere should be left behind.”
Dr. Adhanom’s team worked closely with the African Union under the leadership of South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa, to ensure that African countries are well prepared to face the pandemic and benefit from the WHO supported COVAX facility and vaccines that will ensure at least 20% of the population in Africa is immunised have started arriving.
The WHO director generals serve a 5-year term, which is re-electable, and Dr. Tedros Adhanom hopes his tenure that he began in 2017, will have a desirable impact on people’s health by the time it ends.