Director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that he has been receiving racist death threats while spearheading efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic.
“I can tell you personal attacks that have been going on for more than two or three months — abuses or racist comments, giving me names, black or Negro, for the first time I would make this public even death threats “I don’t give a damn,” Tedros said during a press briefing on Wednesday.
His words, uniquely personal and passionate, came as he called on countries around the world not to politicize the coronavirus pandemic.
In particular, Tedros called on China and the US to work together, with a thinly-veiled message to President Donald Trump, who recently threatened to stop funding the WHO.
“If you don’t want any more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it,” Tedros said.
Typically a bureaucratic setting devoid of much emotion, the few people in the room with Tedros during the WHO briefing appeared visibly moved as the 55-year-old Eritrea-born microbiologist described the racist attacks he’s received in recent months.
“We cannot tolerate that, but since I don’t have any inferiority complex, when I’m personally affected or attacked by racial slurs, I don’t care because I’m a very proud black person or Negro,” Tedros said.
“I don’t care who says what about me. I would prefer to focus on saving lives,” Tedros said. “Let’s fight like hell to suppress and control this virus.”
Tedros, who is in his third year of a five-year term leading the WHO, is the first African Director-General in the agency’s 72-year history.
He is respected as a world leader in global health emergency response, receiving an award from President Jimmy Carter’s humanitarian fund for contributions to global public health in 2011.