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What Dr Harsh Vardhan as WHO Executive Board chairman means for India

The WHO, a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health, is currently at the forefront of global efforts towards containing the novel coronavirus pandemic.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Published: May 21, 2020 9:32:23 am
Dr Harsh Vardhan set to be WHO Executive Board chairman: what this means for India Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan at the Parliament House in March 2020. (Express Photo: Prem Nath Pandey)

India would now be playing a more prominent role at the World Health Organisation (WHO), with Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan set to take charge as chairman of the WHO Executive Board at its 147th session. Vardhan would succeed Dr Hiroki Nakatani of Japan, currently the Chairman of the 34-member WHO Executive Board.

The WHO, a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health, is currently at the forefront of global efforts towards containing the novel coronavirus pandemic.

India is a member state of the South East Asia Region at the WHO. Last year, the bloc had unanimously decided that India’s nominee would be elected to the executive board for a three-year term beginning May.

The WHO Executive Board

The WHO is governed by two decision-making bodies — the World Health Assembly and the Executive Board. The agency’s headquarters are located at Geneva in Switzerland.

According to the WHO website, the Board is composed of 34 members technically qualified in the field of health, with members being elected for three-year terms. The Health Assembly is the WHO’s decision-making body, and consists of 194 Member States.

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The Board chairman’s post is held by rotation for one year by each of the WHO’s six regional groups: African Region, Region of the Americas, South-East Asia Region, European Region, Eastern Mediterranean Region, and Western Pacific Region.

At the main Board meeting held in January, the agenda for the forthcoming Health Assembly is agreed upon, and resolutions for forwarding to the Assembly are adopted. A second shorter meeting is held in May, immediately after the Health Assembly, for more administrative matters.

The main functions of the Board are to give effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly, to advise it and generally to facilitate its work. The Board and the Assembly create a forum for debate on health issues and for addressing concerns raised by Member States.

Both the Board and the Assembly produce three kinds of documents — Resolutions and Decisions passed by the two bodies, Official Records as published in WHO Official publications, and Documents that are presented “in session” of the two bodies.

India at the WHO

India became a party to the WHO Constitution on 12 January 1948. The first session of the South East Asia Regional Committee was held on October 4-5, 1948 in the office of the Indian Minister of Health, and was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister.

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The first Regional Director for South East Asia was an Indian, Dr Chandra Mani, who served between 1948-1968. Currently, the post has again been occupied by an Indian appointee, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, who has been in office since 2014.

Since 2019, Dr Soumya Swaminathan has been the WHO’s Chief Scientist.

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