With Greece we share a common vision: Equality in health for all.

  • An interview with Dr. Tedros Adhamon
(The Director-General nominee of WHO and former Foreign Minister of Ethiopia talks about global challenges in health.)

In a constantly changing environment worldwide, with many countries in financial crisis and massive refugee flows, the elections to the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), conducted in May, acquire weighty significance.

On the sidelines of a political dialogue meeting on policies regarding Public Health, co-organized by the General Secretariat of Public Health and the European Office of WHO, we met the Director-General candidate for WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom.

Former Ethiopian Health Minister and Foreign Minister, Dr. Tedros has a warm and pleasant personality, and is supported by the African Union, an organization consisting of all 55 internationally recognized African countries, but also from Western Sahara, which has not been internationally recognized. If elected, he will be the first African Director General of the World Health Organization. His candidacy already has a high probability of success, having been unanimously passed by the Executive Board of WHO in January with 34 votes — the most of any of the candidates in the early round.

At the heart of Dr. Tedros’ health policy is the universality of access, protection of refugees and migrant health and the strengthening of public health policies, with emphasis on prevention and health education.

Dr. Tedros speaks with “Dawn” Sunday on global challenges to health and evaluates the work of the Greek political leadership.

* What are the reasons that prompted you to participate in this workshop in Greece?

The discussion today is very important because Greece has launched a universal health coverage plan for its citizens. Many experts have gathered here to discuss this very important agenda. The issues raised here are very important. We talk about equity in health. Here we are dealing with other equally important issues such as access for refugees and migrants in Health. To face these challenges, Greece says they “will emphasize the Primary Health Care”, improving the quality of life. We aim to make changes that must be made, such as the emphasis on prevention and health promotion.

The Greek government is trying to move efficiently and effectively towards universal health coverage for its citizens and I am very happy to participate in this workshop with people who share a common vision: Equity in Health for All.

* The Secretary-General, Public Health Giannis Mpaskozos said days ago that the refugee issue is a challenge but also an opportunity to make important changes for improvement in the Public Health System.

I believe that is right. We learn of the challenges we face and transform into them opportunities. I think in order to transform Primary Health Care (PHC) to be more effective, first of all, the political leadership must believe in the approach to primary health care assistance, promoting health and prevention. If there is this belief, then with political will we can build PHC in the country. I think that the political commitment is the beginning step. The difference will not make more hospitals, and more emphasis should be given to primary health care, but this requires a change of mentality. I insisted on this in my speech here in Greece: We need to change our mentality. To believe that primary health care should be at the heart of the system as a vital part of it.

* According to your own experience, the existence of a strong network of primary care involves reducing spending on Health?

Clearly, in the long term, if you invest money in primary care, it will dramatically reduce the occurrence of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory problems that are too costly. Investing in prevention, will keep most of the population healthy. So this is another reason why it is worth investing in public health.

But it is not just money. When people live a healthy life, it gives a country greater value by protecting citizens.

*We note that, especially in countries in crisis, a flourishing private sector in health can conversely, shrinking the State Health System.

Each country has its own position in relation to this issue. Some countries want to expand the private sector, others want more public and less private initiatives and there are countries that want to have either completely privatized health, or a fully public system. This does not really matter in terms of its structure. The key is whether a government will do what needs to protect its citizens from paying for health from their own pockets and being driven into poverty.

Many families around the world have been forced into poverty because they had to pay out of their pocket to have access to healthcare. Governments must take responsibility to remove financial barriers to access healthcare. Ensuring access is more important than who provides health services.

* What are the objectives you intend to implement if elected Director-General of WHO?

Health for all. The promotion of universal health coverage across the globe is essential. The aim is to ensure that all people can have access to the health services they need, without being faced with the risk of poverty and by investing private expenditures on health. Also, to strengthen primary health care and to spread access to prevention, diagnosis and medications for transmitted and non-transmitted diseases.

Health Insurance. My aim is to strengthen the capacity of state authorities and local communities to identify, prevent and respond to emergency health situations and be able to deal more effectively with the massive population movements we are seeing today.

Women, children and adolescents. My fourth goal is to assure good health of women, children and adolescents as the center of global health and development, and to make health a central part of the agenda for gender equality.

Health effects of climate change. Moreover, I intend to focus on supporting public health authorities to better understand and address the impact of climate and environmental change in health.

Transforming WHO. Finally, we need to create a more efficient organization, with greater transparency, and a responsible accountability that is independent, based on science and innovation. This requires a great balance between a bold reform and the stability of the Organization. Thanks to WHO, many more people live more years in good health. However, we live in an ever changing world and WHO must be able to be able to monitor these changes, and transform the agency itself.

You can read more about Dr. Tedros and his vision for a healthy world as #NextDG at his website: http://www.drtedros.com/ — and follow along with his campaign on social media at Facebook.com/DrTedros.Official and on Twitter at @DrTedros. Sign up for the campaign’s newsletter `From the Desk of Dr. Tedros’ at http://bit.ly/2nGWtLm.

  • This article originally appeared in Greece’s Dawn Sunday on April 9, 2017 in Greek, HERE: http://bit.ly/2oVmtDw