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World's focus on Ukraine over suffering in Africa, Asia shows racial bias: WHO chief

The head of the World Health Organization has slammed the global community for its focus on the war in Ukraine, arguing that crises elsewhere, including in his home country of Ethiopia, are not being given equal consideration, possibly because those suffering are not white.

Other crises such as Ethiopia garner only 'fraction' of attention, says Ghebreyesus

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks in Brussels on Feb. 18. (Johanna Geron/The Associated Press)

The head of the World Health Organization has slammed the global community for its focus on the war in Ukraine, arguing that crises elsewhere, including in his home country of Ethiopia, are not being given equal consideration, possibly because those suffering are not white.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus questioned "if the world really gives equal attention to Black and white lives," given that the ongoing emergencies in Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria have garnered only a "fraction" of the global concern for Ukraine. He was speaking in a virtual press briefing from Geneva on Wednesday.

Last month, Ghebreyesus said there is "nowhere on earth where the health of millions of people is more under threat" than Ethiopia's Tigray region.

Since a truce was declared in Tigray three weeks ago, about 2,000 trucks should have been able to bring food, medicines and other essentials to the conflict-ridden area, he said. Instead, only about 20 trucks have arrived, said Ghebreyesus, a former minister of health in Ethiopia and an ethnic Tigrayan.

"As we speak, people are dying of starvation," he said. "This is one of the longest and worst sieges by both Eritrean and Ethiopian forces in modern history."

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Ghebreyesus acknowledged that the war in Ukraine is globally significant, but asked if other crises are being accorded enough attention.

"I need to be blunt and honest that the world is not treating the human race the same way," he said. "Some are more equal than others."

A 'tragic' situation

Ghebreyesus described the situation in Tigray as "tragic" and said he "hopes the world comes back to its senses and treats all human life equally." He also critiqued the press for its failure to document the ongoing atrocities in Ethiopia, noting that people had been burned alive in the region. "I don't even know if that was taken seriously by the media."

Earlier this year, the government of Ethiopia sent a letter to the World Health Organization, accusing Ghebreyesus of "misconduct" after his sharp criticism of the war and humanitarian crisis in the country.

The Ethiopian government said Ghebreyesus was using his office "to advance his political interest at the expense of Ethiopia," and said he continues to be an active member of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

Ghebreyesus was Ethiopia's foreign minister and health minister when the TPLF dominated the country's ruling coalition.

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