Dr Tedros Promises WHO Reform with Human Rights at the Core

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been elected Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) for the next five years. Dr Tedros, Ethiopia’s foreign minister and former health minister, believes WHO must evolve and adapt to urgent global health challenges, and “put the right to health at the core of its functions, and be the global vanguard to champion them.”

Universal health coverage will be his topmost priority. “The growing momentum around universal health coverage—combined with the global commitment to sustainable development and its motto of “leaving no one behind”—offers unique opportunities to advance equity in health.”

In a Q&A with Health and Human Rights Dr Tedros discussed the “hundreds of millions of people missing out on essential health care or falling into poverty trying to pay for it. That is a violation of the human right to health that demands our full attention and urgent action.” He acknowledged that implementation of policies to achieve universal health cover is difficult and requires collaboration and partnership across stakeholders. He explained this collaborative approach guided Ethiopia’s pursuit of equitable health access when he was minister of health. “We maintained a firm commitment to the principle that health is a basic human right by dramatically expanding coverage of primary health care services. We achieved success by (1) directing new domestic investments in primary health care to people in areas where the need was greatest, including rural and pastoralist areas; (2) engaging communities as partners in local health governance; and (3) building political commitment and promoting accountability at all levels and across all stakeholder groups.

Dr Tedros told Health and Human Rights “I am committed to transforming the way that WHO operates with the core principles of health as a human right and universal health coverage for the most vulnerable are at the forefront of all our work. Too often, human rights and gender equity are secondary considerations when UN organizations develop programming. This is outdated and must change. When it comes to rights issues in the reform, importantly, it’s not so much the design of the processes or structures that will make a difference. Far more important is ensuring that health as a human right is engrained into the mindset and attitudes of staff. We need to make sure WHO staff take this core value of the organization to heart and truly believe in it. That is how I believe we will most effectively mainstream human rights in WHO’s public health programming.”