Let’s Call the Attack on Dr. Tedros by Its Proper Name: Colonialism

The transparency of recent accusations against Dr. Tedros Adhanom, one of two leading candidates for the position of Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), is all too clear. It reflects the desperation of those who seek to undermine the candidacy of Dr. Tedros.

Why? There are two likely suspects—those who are mired in the inglorious past of racism and racism’s best friend, colonialism, and they are aided and abetted by a self-hating Ethiopian opposition who live only to see their country fail.

But first—the accusation against Dr. Tedros. Let’s be clear. It is not the government’s response or lack of response to a cholera outbreak in the country that is the real issue.

Everyone in international public health knows there are criteria set by the World Health Organization (WHO)—the very organization he is set to lead—that determine when to declare a cholera outbreak. The WHO clearly states, “laboratory analysis of specimens from the first suspected cases is essential to confirm the presence of cholera and determine the characteristics of the organism; control measures can then be implemented. [1] Until this determination is made through laboratory testing, it is called acute watery diarrhea.

Now let’s look at who is making these charges. The first is an advisor to Dr. David Nabarro, the second leading candidate in this election.

A story was published in the New York Times on May 13, 2017. The headline read: Candidate to Lead the W.H.O. Accused of Covering Up Epidemics. The lede sentence, “A leading candidate to head the World Health Organization was accused this week of covering up three cholera epidemics in his home country, Ethiopia, when he was health minister — a charge that could seriously undermine his campaign to run the agency.”

The second sentence, however, gives it all away. We quote: “The accusation against Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was made by a prominent global health expert who is also an informal adviser to Dr. David Nabarro, a rival candidate in the race for W.H.O. director general.”

And what does the journalist, Donald McNeil, Jr. do with this information? He lets it go. He allows Dr. Nabarro’s “informal advisor,” Dr. Lawrence O. Gostin, the director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, to piously claim that he is bringing this to everyone’s attention for the good of WHO.

We don’t buy that. In a previous New York Times article written by the same journalist, he quoted Dr. Gostin as saying about the process, “, “But “being competent is not enough…“This is a deeply political election,” he said, “where merit often comes second to regional politics.”

Is the author implying that Dr. Tedros’ candidacy is based on the fact that “regional politics”—read the African bloc—negates Dr. Tedros eminent qualifications for the job?  The implication, on the face of it, couldn’t be clearer. Africa’s first serious candidate for DG is not genuinely as qualified as Dr. Nabarro because he is African. And the countries of Africa are only voting for Dr. Tedros only because he is African—not because he is the best candidate.

Colonialism is alive and well.

Sadly, those who support Dr. Nabarro have friends in the Ethiopian diaspora who would not like to see their countryman serve in such a high-profile position. Dr. Gostin need only walk down the streets of Georgetown to find an Ethiopian taxi driver who will support his false narrative. It is sad that the Ethiopian opposition would try to deny their country a well-earned place at the table in international public health just to advance their own political agenda. Country should always supersede party.

Dr. Tedros is the right choice to lead the WHO at a time when WHO is drifting away from its role as a global leader—struggling to meet the challenges of organizational inefficiency and dysfunction as well as a donor-driven agenda.

Dr. Tedros conquered these challenges in Ethiopia and is ready to do the same for the WHO.

Hopefully, member countries will elect the person who best exemplifies the leadership needed for the WHO to fulfill its global public health mandate. And by the way, the best person for this job is African

[1] Guidelines for Cholera Control, World Health Organization, 1993. See http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/36837/1/924154449X.pdf.

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