The Ethiopian head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, looks set to serve a second term as director-general following reports that no nation will challenge him despite his controversial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and close relationship to China.
Observers say that if the U.S. doesn’t put up a challenger, it has lost a major opportunity for wielding influence over the important international body.
President Biden re-engaged with the WHO early in his presidency following the Trump administration’s announcement that it would be terminating the U.S. relationship with the organization. At the time, Trump cited the WHO’s handling of the pandemic, its purported pro-China bias and subsequent failure to enact reforms.
While the State Department would not confirm or deny if the U.S. was supporting Tedros, Dr. Anthony Fauci said at the time of the administration’s rejoining the organization in January that Tedros was his “dear friend.” Tedros has reportedly referred to Fauci as “my brother Tony.”
Fox News has learned that 17 countries from the European Union, including France and Germany, recently nominated Tedros for a second term.
He was also reportedly backed by Kenya since his home country of Ethiopia was unwilling to give him its blessing due to accusations of him taking sides against the sitting government as the threat of civil war escalates. Tedros, who is not a medical doctor, had previously served as the Ethiopian health and foreign minister.
A State Department spokesman in an email to Fox News said “the period for nominations by Member States closed on Sept. 23. We look forward to receiving the formal notice by the WHO after the last Regional Committee near the end of October. The Administration is committed to strengthening and reforming the WHO to ensure it can deliver on its vital global mission to advance global health and health security, including preventing and responding to future health emergencies.”
The United States is the single-biggest contributor to the WHO, spending roughly $2 billion over the last five years. The U.S. funds 22% of the organization’s budget, while China picks up almost half of the tab.
Hugh Dugan, who was the senior director for international organization affairs at the National Security Council during the Trump administration and had briefed the Biden administration on the WHO during the transition, expressed his concern that needed reforms may fall by the wayside .
“In standing for another five years as WHO chief, Tedros was due a White House grilling over COVID-19. But Biden forgot to seize that opportunity for improved accountability and transparency concerning Wuhan,” Dugan said. “Instead, he rubber-stamped Tedros like a mildly overdue library book. The status quo should have been a status no, and only the United States has the heft to call out China’s guy. But Biden’s team … continued to show little interest in creating leverage for needed change at WHO’s helm.”
Craig Singleton, adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Fox News the Biden administration missed an opportunity. “The Biden administration’s failure to put forward a qualified candidate stands in stark contrast to its stated desire to both meaningfully reform the WHO and rehabilitate the beleaguered health body’s global standing.”
Singleton continued, “There is now broad recognition within both political and scientific circles that the WHO’s initial findings regarding COVID-19’s origins strains credulity. In response to mounting public pressure, Tedros has been forced to acknowledge what has been known since the pandemic’s outset – China’s refusal to collaborate with the international community is the only thing that stands in the way of the world truly finding out where and how this pandemic began.”
Singleton, a former U.S. official with expertise on China and international organizations, shared concerns over Tedros’ perceived China bias.
“There is little doubt that Tedros lacks credibility, not only because he allowed Beijing to undermine the investigation into COVID-19’s origins, but also because a number of serious scandals have occurred on his watch.” he said. “These include reports about sexual assault allegations involving WHO employees in his inner circle, as well as a recent audit which revealed that the WHO spent millions of donor dollars procuring faulty Chinese PPE during the height of the pandemic.”
He noted that there is scant evidence that “his affinity for China has lessened since the pandemic’s outset. This is unsurprising given Tedros’ history of championing Beijing’s interests, first as Ethiopia’s health minister and later as foreign minister.”
Singleton said a review of United Nations records revealed that Chinese aid contributions to Tedros’ native Ethiopia substantially increased when he was in top leadership positions.
The same goes for China’s contributions to the WHO after Tedros’ election in 2017, one preceded by intense Chinese lobbying on Tedros’ behalf, according to Singleton. Tedros’ Chinese ties also include links to Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, who serves as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador.
A diplomat with knowledge of the inner workings at the organization who asked to remain anonymous told Fox that the WHO is deeply troubled under Tedros.
The diplomat observed that the WHO was “entirely focused on promoting his personal political agenda. He is not a scientist, and his rule is authoritarian and patriarchal. With repeated mishaps on scientific guidance … WHO has lost all credibility.”
A spokesman for the WHO wouldn’t confirm if Tedros was the only candidate and didn’t respond to follow-up questions regarding criticism of Tedros.
Earlier this year, Tedros wouldn’t discuss whether he was running for a second term, saying he was concentrating on fighting the pandemic.
Hugh Dugan, who advised 11 U.S. ambassadors to the U.N,. said Tedros needs to openly encourage Taiwan’s membership to WHO, a move that would help show the world that China does not control the organization.
“The quickest path to WHO rehab would be for Tedros and responsible states to have invited Taiwanese membership in the organization. This would have dispelled the existence of Chinese control of Tedros’ front office,” Dugan said.
The full list of candidates for director-general should be unveiled at the end of October, and while Tedros has not stated publicly he is running, his second term looks all but certain.
Fox News’ Adam Shaw and the Associated Press contributed to this article.