Ethiopia's Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has steered the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is on course to serve a second five-year term as head of the World Health Organization after being the only candidate nominated by 28 countries, Western diplomats said on Friday.
The diplomats were quoting a letter sent by the WHO to its 194 member states informing them of the confidential nominations contained in sealed envelopes submitted in late September.
Ethiopia declined to nominate Tedros for a second term due to friction over the Tigray conflict, making it necessary for other countries to step in and do so.
The 28 states include France, Germany and other European Union members, as well as three African countries - Botswana, Kenya and Rwanda - the diplomats told Reuters. The United States was not among them.
The issue is so sensitive that the African Union has not even discussed the appointment, including at its latest summit this month, African diplomats said.
The WHO will hold the election during the annual meeting of its health ministers next May. The nominations were kept secret to limit early campaigning.
Tedros, a former health and foreign minister of Ethiopia, was the first African elected WHO director-general in May 2017.
He has led the global response to COVID-19, the worst public health crisis in a century, which broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and has killed 5.2 million people.
The United States, under former President Donald Trump, accused him of being "China-centric", a charge he denies.
Relations have warmed since Joe Biden's administration took office in January.
But he annoyed China with public calls in July for it to share Wuhan lab audits and provide more data on early COVID-19 cases. WHO investigators have yet to regain access to the country to probe the origins of coronavirus.
WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said the agency would issue a statement on the nominations later on Friday.