Who Leads WHO Matters: Why Misconceptions about Africa Persist

By Noelle Sullivan, PhD

Before his anticipated July 1 start date as Director General of the World Health Organization, former health minister for Ethiopia Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus embarks on a tour of the United States. Commonly referred to as “Dr. Tedros,” his ascension to Director General marks the first time in history a WHO Director-General will be an African. His election broke the “African-leadership glass ceiling,” despite Africa being a primary target of global health funding.

The lack of Africans in key global leadership positions reflects popular stereotypes dating back to colonialism and continuing to play out. The problem is systematic, and we’re participants in it.

For outsiders, Africa is a trope, the imagery of corruption, violence, starvation, overpopulation, and abject need so familiar we rarely question it. Vice-President Joe Biden and President George W. Bush each separately referred to Africa as a country.

From Medium