By Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Liberia
Before his election to the post of Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a microbiologist and internationally reputed malaria researcher, served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia (2012-2016), having previously served as Minister of Health (2005-2012). When I served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liberia (2012-2015), I had the opportunity to work closely with Tedros (as we affectionately called him) not only to tighten the bilateral bonds between Liberia and Ethiopia (the two oldest African countries) but also, in the context of the Executive Council of the African Union (AU), principally comprising ministers of foreign affairs of AU member states, to promote the peace, stability and advancement of the African Continent. Tedros served as Chairman of the Executive Council between 2013-2014 during which time the Council crafted, and the Assembly of Heads of State and Government endorsed, the much-touted 50-year Africa development framework, “Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want” and its first ten-year implementation plan.
I and many of my colleagues, having had the sufficiency of professional interactions and proximity which enabled close assessment, came to deeply admire Tedros for his astuteness, brilliance, tenacity, humility, and exceptional leadership skills.
Tedros, the first African to head the WHO, has been doing a great job since he assumed the reins of leadership of the prestigious global body. A living memory of his leadership capabilities is reflected in the manner in which he oversaw WHO management of the Kivu Ebola epidemic, the biggest Ebola outbreak in the history of the DR Congo. The outbreak began in August 2018 and ended a couple of weeks ago.
No doubt, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, has posed its unique set of challenges, confounding the best and smartest virologists and epidemiologists, indeed; the entire global community of medical research scientists and doctors. Medical specialists the world over, are still struggling to fully grasp the nature and behavior of this deadly and insidious enemy. Under Tedros’ leadership, the WHO has done reasonably well in managing the COVID-19 crisis, although its effectiveness has been limited somewhat by funding challenges and the 2005 International Health Regulations. The 2005 International Health Regulations would evidently need to be updated to set the basis for responding more appropriately to the harsh and complex realities that are posed by a future global public health challenges with the speed and magnitude as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finding a fall guy or a scapegoat In the midst of a crisis is an easy and attractive option for some people. Hopefully when the global community succeeds in ending this existential health threat, there will be enough time for pundits and critics, benefitting fully from hindsight, to clearly and objectively pinpoint what the WHO, a body laden with a complex decision making process that requires technical advice every step of the way, from an International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee comprising reputable and top-class health experts from across the globe including the United States, would have done differently. Also, at that time, pundits and critics will be able to thoroughly investigate and clearly pinpoint what heads of state and government, health experts and practitioners as well as ordinary citizens would have done differently. For now, the global community needs to work more harmoniously and remain laser-focused on defeating this deadly common enemy.
Lest I be misunderstood, I am not against good-faith critiques of WHO or any other actor, including world leaders, involved with the global fight against COVID-19. What I am completely against and find totally unacceptable is the attitude of individuals who have resorted to sending death threats to and hurling racial slurs at the Director General of the WHO, as has been reported in the media recently. Tedros is a proud and astute son of Africa. Racist comments directed at him are not just an attack on his person but an attack on Africans in general. I therefore join my voice to that of several well-meaning individuals across the world to condemn such unfair attacks and call on the perpetrators to stop pursuing such an unfortunate path. I also stand foursquare behind the AU Chairperson, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, to “call upon international community to join hands to support the efforts of the DG and the entire WHO family as they lead global efforts to fight this pandemic.” Indeed, I STAND AGAINST DEATH THREATS AND RACIAL INSULTS. I STAND WITH TEDROS!