Next WHO Director has links, prior partnerships with U-M

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was elected in May to be the next Director-General of the World Health Organization

The World Health Organization’s next Director-General brings U-M connections and a demonstrated belief in academic partnerships in global health to his new role.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, elected last month to the top job at the WHO, is the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and the former Minister of Health in Ethiopia, where he was instrumental in bolstering the health system infrastructure, relying in part on models and practices developed at the University of Michigan Medical School.

“Dr. Tedros is a dynamic, thoughtful leader who is taking over the helm at WHO at a critical time.  Global health will be well served by someone of his integrity who is dedicated to collaborations that aim to improve health equity,” said Joseph Kolars, Senior Associate Dean for Education and Global Initiatives. “We at Michigan Medicine appreciate in Dr. Tedros a good friend who shares our values and appreciates the many partnerships that we’ve started in Ethiopia and elsewhere.”

Ghebreyesus (or Dr. Tedros, as he is widely known to colleagues) has visited UMMS on several occasions to learn more about the medical school’s successful maternal health collaborations in Ghana. Many of those programs were ultimately widely adopted in Ethiopia as part of Ghebreyesus’ efforts to reform and improve healthcare and medical education there. He first visited Ann Arbor in March 2011, meeting with senior leaders and faculty from across the medical school as well as the schools of Public Health, Nursing, and more. A cross-disciplinary group that included the medical school received a Third Century Grant to foster collaborations in Ethiopia, and U-M has since hosted a number of other high-level Ethiopian government officials and education leaders.

UMMS faculty have assisted with the development of numerous post-graduate training programs for Ethiopian physicians in OB-GYN, surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, GI, transplantation, and other specialties. UMMS doctors under the leadership of Professor of Transplant Surgery Jeffrey Punch, MD, helped perform Ethiopia’s first ever kidney transplants in 2015.

Ghebreyesus (center) with UMMS faculty during a 2011 visit to Ann Arbor.

Michigan Medicine’s Ethiopia partnerships have largely been concentrated at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College, in Addis Ababa, and represent one small part of a broader effort under Ghebreyesus to transform the Ethiopian health system.  Under his leadership, Ethiopia has greatly expanded health insurance coverage and increased access, adding 3,500 health centers and 38,000 health extension workers across the country.

When he assumes his new role on July 1, Ghebreyesus will be the first WHO Director-General to hail from Africa.

“When we started our work to reform Ethiopia’s health system, we only had around one-fifth of the resources needed to deliver on our plan. But instead of limiting our thinking to what we could do with our existing resources, we set the target of covering everyone, then built the plan to get there. This is the attitude I would bring to the WHO,” said Ghebreyesus in a blog post just a few days before his May 23. election. “I think we should be unapologetically ambitious in the objectives we set because people around the world matter far too much to think on a small scale.”

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