THE BLOG
01/15/2017 03:07 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2018

My commitment to ensuring a strong, coordinated, global response to health emergencies

We live in a world at constant risk of public health emergencies. In our increasingly interconnected world, public health emergencies can affect anyone, anywhere. The recent outbreaks of Zika, Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and Yellow Fever have reminded us that disease threats are not limited to one country, one issue, or one pathogen. We saw the catastrophic impact of Ebola not only on the numbers of lives affected or lost and overwhelmed health systems but also on the economic development reversals of the affected countries. Yet Nigeria and Senegal were able to contain the outbreak rapidly due to better coordination, incident management systems, robust surveillance platforms and community engagement. One key takeaway is to ensure that each country builds the core capacities of the International Health Regulations (IHR) and ensures the safety of the public. Otherwise, the gains we have made over the past several decades can easily be undone. We must make sure that countries are encouraged, not punished, to report outbreaks and have the necessary support.

The post-Ebola landscape showed that Member States increasingly want WHO to go beyond its traditional normative role to engage and lead health aspects of emergency responses. Through the current reform of the WHO Emergency Programme, WHO is developing new operational capacities and capabilities for outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies.

Strong leadership is essential in the face of health crises. Complex public health emergencies demand a collective response with high-level political and diplomatic engagement at both the national and global levels. Local and international authorities must work together to put health at the centre of their security, economic and development agendas.

In 2009, when I was Health Minister, we re-engineered our business processes to examine the weaknesses and opportunities in our health system. Following that exercise, we established a public health emergency management system from national to district level to prevent and provide rapid response to outbreaks. We introduced basic and advanced field epidemiology training program to build capacity of surveillance officers. We also set up an emergency operation centre and its team investigated hundreds of localised outbreaks. Ethiopia is now better positioned in incident management, coordination, surveillance and diagnostic capacity.

As Foreign Minister, I had the opportunity to shape the region's response to the Ebola epidemic, facilitating greater country ownership and promptly mobilising 200 Ethiopian health workers to join the African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA).

In my vision statement for WHO, I emphasise the need for national preparedness to deal with health threats and build capacity. As Director-General, I will ensure strong, coordinated and rapid global responses to health emergencies by strengthening WHO's capacity to lead by implementing and independently monitoring the newly-established WHO programme for outbreaks and health emergencies based on the 'six ones': one programme, one line of authority, one set of emergency management processes and performance metrics, one workforce, one budget and one set of emergency business rules and processes. I will regularly monitor and engage with emerging efforts, such as the recently-established Global Health Crisis Task Force.

We must harmonise emergency responses to ensure synergy and alignment between pandemic preparedness and response efforts at the global and local levels, as well as between existing and emerging health emergency financial instruments. The number of actors in global health governance and service delivery has grown exponentially over the past two decades. This proliferation of other global health institutions is actually an opportunity, creating a multiplier effect for great impact in improving health worldwide. If elected, I will lead from the front and place WHO at the centre of global health action.

Two weeks remain before the Member States of the WHO Executive Board convene to short-list the top three candidates for Director-General. I am running because WHO has the power to make tangible and positive impact on the lives of billions of people. I believe in WHO's mandate, I know what it takes to serve those who need the most care yet receive the least and I believe I can lead WHO to fulfil its potential.

First, I am passionate about improving the health of people around the world - and I am a firm believer that healthy populations are the cornerstone of sustainable development.

Second, I have proven experience addressing the greatest health challenges of our time at their roots at both the national and international levels. These experiences have given me the technical skills needed to be successful as Director-General.

Third, having served as Ethiopia's Minister of Health and Minister of Foreign Affairs - as well as in several board leadership positions - I have the political leadership and diplomatic skills that WHO needs. For example, I brought together all UN Member States to agree to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in July 2015 to finance the sustainable development goals.

I truly believe that together we can create a healthier world.