World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has laid out more plans to fight coronavirus as he pitched his case for a new five-year term, but faced criticism from his own country of Ethiopia over his comments about the embattled Tigray region.
Mr Tedros is running unopposed for a second term as WHO director-general, meaning he is all but certain to win re-election when the WHO Assembly takes place in May.
Recently, Mr Tedros, an ethnic Tigrayan, has come under new criticism from Ethiopia’s government, which has been fighting militants in Tigray, for his condemnation of Ethiopia’s blockade of international access to Tigray.
He said the WHO had not been allowed to send any humanitarian aid to the region since July, and called for “unfettered” humanitarian access to Tigray, whose people are facing enormous hunger amid the war.
Ethiopia’s government said on January 14 that it had sent a letter to the WHO accusing Mr Tedros of “misconduct” after his criticism of the war and the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa country.
The government nominated him for the job in 2017, but has since accused him of interfering in Ethiopia’s internal affairs, and claims he has “not lived up to the integrity and professional expectations required from his office”.
His current term as the WHO’s top official — perhaps the highest-profile job in global health — has been overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under Mr Tedros, the UN health agency faced criticism from former US president Donald Trump over its early handling of the crisis and has faced pressure over its approach to China, where the outbreak first emerged two years ago.
Last year, independent investigators turned up dozens of cases of sexual abuse and exploitation in Congo during a WHO-led response to an Ebola outbreak in 2019.
Mr Tedros said on Tuesday that he was “horrified” by the reports, saying the agency’s response to them has been “robust” and his commitment to preventing such exploitation, abuse and harassment “with a victim and survivor-centred approach is iron clad”.
Many countries have ignored or rejected WHO advice on ways to tackle Covid-19, such as its calls to avoid blanket travel restrictions, or its calls to share vaccines and the technological know-how to make them with less developed nations.