Harsh Vardhan takes over as WHO executive board chief
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan on Friday took charge as the chairman of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s 34-member executive board at its 147th session to become the third Indian to currently occupy a senior position in the global health agency.
Vardhan will chair meetings of the board but the assignment isn’t a full-time one. He will be chairman for a year.
The other Indians in senior roles at WHO are Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist, WHO Geneva, and Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, who is serving her second five-year term as the regional director, South East Asia Region, which is one of six WHO regions.
Harsh Vardhan succeeded Dr Hiroki Nakatani of Japan.
Apart from being India’s health minister, Vardhan also heads the ministries of science and technology, and earth sciences in the BJP-led NDA government.
“I congratulate Dr Harsh Vardhan for being elected as the chair of the executive board of WHO. He will lead the board to the next level of excellence. I wish every success for the new chair,” said Nakatani while handing over the post.
The World Health Organization is a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health. The agency is headquartered at Geneva in Switzerland. The 34-member executive board of the agency is technically qualified in the field of health, with members usually being elected for a three-year term, and each of them being designated by a member state.
The mandate of the executive board is to advise on the listed matters, and implement decisions and policies of the World Health Assembly.
India is one of the 194 member states at WHO, Dr Harsh Vardhan will hold the post for a year (2020-21).
“I am sure that constant engagement with member states and other stakeholders will reinforce reforms and help accelerate progress towards achieving sustainable development goals and universal health coverage with the most productive, efficient and targeted utilisation of resources…” said Harsh Vardhan while taking charge.
“My heart is heavy as lakhs of people have lost their lives to this deadly pandemic. Despite making great strides in science and technology we are still at the mercy of these pathogens. This is a great human tragedy and the next two decades may see many such challenges. All these challenges demand a shared response, because these are shared threats requiring a shared responsibility to act,” he also said.
WHO is governed by two decision-making bodies: the World Health Assembly and the Executive Board. The Health Assembly is WHO’s decision-making body, and consists of representatives from its 194 member states.
The member states or countries of WHO are divided into six groups that represent six different regions in the organisation: African Region; Region of the Americas; South-East Asia Region; European Region; Eastern Mediterranean Region; and Western Pacific Region.
“Dr Harsh Vardhan has a rich experience in public health. He is the pioneer of India’s successful pulse polio program and has been in the forefront in the fight against tobacco and many other issues. The world can now gain from his expertise and experience,” said SEA regional director, Dr Singh.
The post of the executive body’s chairman is held by each group by rotation.
The executive board usually meets twice in a year. In January, the main board meeting is held to set the agenda for the World Health Assembly that is held in May.
A second shorter meeting is held in May, immediately after the World Health Assembly, to discuss administrative matters.
India became a part of WHO on January 12, 1948. The first session of the South East Asia Regional Committee was held on October 4-5, 1948.
“My association with WHO dates back to early 1990s; I have even served as an advisor to the organisation and feel deeply honoured to have trust and faith of all of you,” Harsh Vardhan added.