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Ethiopia’s Cholera-Denying Candidate to Lead the World's Top Health Body Is Taking a Battering Online

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopia, speaks at Chatham House. Photo by Chatham House via Wikipedia. CC BY 2.0

Thousands of Tweets, several open letters and a relentless online campaign have dogged Ethiopia's candidate for the World Health Organization Director-General position, Tedros Adahanom, as member states prepare to vote on May 23, 2017. But why do Ethiopians dislike him so much?

With support from the Ethiopian government, Mr. Adahanom has led a robust and elaborate campaign, making it through to the last round of candidates; though the overall sources of his campaign funds remain shrouded in secrecy.

While the election for the Director-General of the WHO is largely an unexciting, institutional affair, Ethiopians fierce online opposition has added an interesting sub-plot as some of Adahanom’s controversies come to light.

Their relentless campaign might also have prompted media to shed light on Adahanom’s controversies.

The New York Times for instance revealed that Adahanom covered up a cholera outbreak during his tenure as Ethiopia’s health minister.

A few days later, the Washington Post reported that Adahanom “didn’t like mentioning a certain disease”.

Lancet, a respected British medical journal published a short, sharp letter alleging Adahanom’s indifference towards deals struck by the Ethiopian authorities with Japanese and British tobacco companies. In the letter, Frank Ashall of the Africa Tobacco-Free Initiative said:

Given the aforesaid issues, I believe that Tedros is not the right candidate that WHO needs to take it forward.

Adahanom has accused his fellow candidate Dr. David Nabarro of an imperialistic attitude but has not refuted any of the claims that have made his candidacy controversial.

Meanwhile, in the final few days of the campaign, Adahanom's opponents have been reinforced.

An Olympic medalist, Feyisa Lelisa, who was exiled after he defiantly protested against the Ethiopian government at the Rio Olympics asked Adahanom to drop out of the race and apologize to the people of Ethiopia for his role in human rights abuses and covering up cholera outbreaks as Ethiopia’s minister of health. Lelisa made the request in an Op-Ed for Al-Jazeera.

Reeyot Alemu, an award-winning journalist wrote an open letter protesting Adahanom’s candidacy to the World Health Assembly which is set to meet on May 22 in Geneva, Switzerland.

She wrote:

The reason why I am writing to you today is not to express self-pity. It is because I strongly believe that the World Health Organization (WHO), an important global institution, is on the verge of falling into the abyss of scandal. I fear that WHO’s reputation will be tarnished and credibility questioned if it elects Dr. Tedros Adhanom. The fact that Dr. Adhanom, one of the top human rights violators making life miserable to the people of Ethiopia, has managed to be in the last three candidates, bidding to take over the position of Director-General, is very troubling and alarming.

Yet another prominent opposition politician, Habtamu Ayalew, who was banned from leaving Ethiopia for medical treatment said:

I cannot imagine a person who refused treatment to a victim of torture seeks to run the global health institution

Adahanom’s team have fought back, however, arguing it is Africa’s turn to lead WHO:


  • Danel Magnaw

    Viva Dr Adhanom! We are proud of you.
    We all know that some of the comments are forwarded by Enemies of Ethiopia. Some are people from opposition party residing in US and Europe and many are f Eritrean.
    No matter what you said he will definitely make it. It is Time for Africa and Africa never had such visionary representative.
    His contribution for his country and for Africa is enormous. We need Such a strong personality in this position who can successfully lead WHO.

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