WHO director general to receive Thomas Francis Jr. Medal

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general for the World Health Organization who has led it through the COVID-19 pandemic, will be awarded the Thomas Francis Jr. Medal in Global Public Health.

Tedros, the first African and first nonmedical doctor to lead the global health organization, will receive the medal during an in-person ceremony to take place in the spring of 2023 at the University of Michigan.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Named after the renowned U-M virologist and infectious disease expert, the medal comes with a $50,000 award and is one of the university’s highest honors. It recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the advancement of global health.

“Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has committed himself over and over again to improving the health of underserved people worldwide. Whether addressing tuberculosis, AIDS, malaria or COVID, he has shaped worldwide health care and helped to uplift those most in need. We look forward to honoring him and recognizing his leadership,” President Mary Sue Coleman said.

Coleman first awarded the medal in 2005 on the 50th anniversary of Francis’ historic announcement that the results of the polio vaccine trials had proven the Jonas Salk vaccine to be “safe, effective, and potent.”

Two and a half years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the world faces considerable public health challenges including monkeypox and the recent resurgence of polio in parts of the world, the acknowledgement of robust global public health efforts is as important as ever, said School of Public Health Dean DuBois Bowman, who chaired the selection committee.

“In an increasingly interconnected and global society, a global approach to public health is critical to our ability to anticipate threats, prevent disease and improve health and equity across populations,” Bowman said. “Tedros exemplifies this approach and his innovation, leadership and fervent commitment to health equity have positively impacted the lives of countless people around the world.”

Born in Eritrea, Tedros — as he prefers to be called — was first elected in 2017 and reelected for a second term in May 2022. Before joining WHO, he served in Ethiopia as minister of foreign affairs and, previously, as minister of health.

In those roles, he developed a health care workforce strategy considered transformational for the country and was involved in global health initiatives related to HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

It was during his tenure as minister of foreign affairs that Tedros became aware of the work U-M was doing in Ghana to help develop the medical workforce.

He was instrumental in bringing those efforts to Ethiopia, planting the seeds of what would become a long-standing commitment to exchange knowledge and know-how for the development of a health-care force in the region.

Tedros has chaired the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership Board, and co-chaired the board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

He received a Bachelor of Biology degree from the University of Asmara, a Master of Science in immunology of infectious diseases from the University of London, and a Ph.D. in community health from the University of Nottingham. He has an honorary fellowship from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Previous Francis Medal recipients are William Foege in 2005, Alfred Sommer in 2010, and Sir Fazle Hasan Abed in 2016.

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