On Friday, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan took over as the Chairman of the Executive board of the World Health Organisation (WHO). He succeeds Japan’s Dr Hiroki Nakatani and will be chairing the 34-member board for the next year.
The Health Minister who is currently at the forefront of India’s fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak said in a tweet that he would “put myself to work...to realise the collective vision of our organisation to build the collective capacity of all our member nations and to build a heroic collective leadership.” He was addressing the 147th session of the WHO Executive Board's meeting after taking charge as Chair.
“I’m well aware that I’m taking over as Chair of the Executive Board of WHO at a time when world is facing a grave health threat from COVID-19. However, such situations demand a shared responsibility to act and a greater degree of ‘shared idealism’ of nations,” he wrote on Twitter sharing a video clip of his speech.
In recent times, amid the COVID-19 crisis, the WHO has found itself under fire for how it has handled the situation. One of its sternest critics at present, US President Donald Trump had earlier threatened to permanently halt funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) if it fails to commit to "substantive improvements" within 30 days. Trump had also accused WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of bias towards China.
Speaking about India’s efforts to combat the virus, Vardhan mentioned the country’s health scheme – Ayushmann Bharat – and said that he was “privileged to also be the Health Minister of India”.
The executive board of the WHO are comprised of individuals designated by member states elected for the same by the World Health Assembly. According to the WHO’s website, the Board meets at least twice a year and aims to “give effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly” and to advise the body and help it function. In 2019, WHO's South East Asia group had decided that India would be elected to the Executive Board for three years from 2020.
As Chairman, Dr Hash Vardhan would be required to chair the Board’s meetings. It is not a full-time position. The proposal to appoint India's nominee to the executive board was signed by the 194-nation World Health Assembly.
Speaking about the appointment, Regional Director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh called Harsh Vardhan the pioneer of India’s successful pulse polio program.
(With inputs from agencies)