Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Friday took charge as the chairman of the Executive Board at the World Health Organization, reported PTI. After assuming charge, he said the coronavirus pandemic has underlined the need to re-energise interest and investment in public health globally, according to PTI.

Vardhan said he was honoured to have the trust and faith of everyone. “India and all my countrymen, too, feel privileged that this honour has been bestowed upon us,” he added.

Earlier on Tuesday, the 194-nation World Health Assembly signed off on the proposal to appoint India’s nominee to the Executive Board. However, Vardhan’s taking over the post is more of a formality. The WHO’s South East Asia group had unanimously decided last year that India will be elected a member state of the executive board for a three-year term. It was also decided at this meeting that New Delhi’s nominee will be the Executive Board chairman for the first year, which is till May 2021. Vardhan will continue to be a member of the board till 2023.

The main functions of the Executive Board are to implement the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly and to advise it. Vardhan, who succeeded Hiroki Nakatani of Japan, will be working closely with WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The union minister said that the coronavirus is a “great human tragedy” and we may face similar challenges in the next two decades. “All these challenges demand a shared response, as these are shared threats requiring a shared responsibility to act,” Vardhan said. “While this is the core philosophy of our alliance of member nations that comprise the WHO, it needs a greater degree of shared idealism of nations.”

He said that the pandemic had made humanity aware of ignoring the strengthening and preparedness of our healthcare systems. “In such times of global crisis, risk management and mitigation would require further strengthening of global partnerships.”

Vardhan claimed that India has only 3% mortality rate and with 1.35 billion people, there are only 0.1 million Covid-19 cases. “The recovery rate is above 40% and the doubling rate is 13 days,” he added. India has so far reported more than 1.25 lakh cases and 3,720 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Vardhan also underlined the need for stronger commitments with respect to diseases that have plagued humankind for centuries. He said there was a need for collaborations to supplement each other by pooling in global resources. Vardhan added that there was also a need for an aggressive roadmap to curtail deaths from diseases that can be eliminated, and that nations should address the global shortage of medicines and vaccines.

He said that constant engagement with member states and other stakeholders will reinforce reforms. This will also help in “achieving sustainable development goals and universal health coverage with the most productive, efficient and targeted utilisation of resources”.

Vardhan’s elevation comes amid growing calls to investigate how the coronavirus originated in China’s Wuhan city in late 2019. China has been accused of concealing information about the virus in the early days of the outbreak. WHO and its Director General Ghebreyesus have been blamed for playing along.

At the Health Assembly earlier on Monday, India, along with 61 nations, called for an “impartial” evaluation of WHO’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. United States President Donald Trump has blamed the global health agency for taking China’s side and said that he will reconsider America’s membership and “permanently freeze” the global body’s funding if “substantive improvements” are not made in the next 30 days.

While most experts believe that the virus originated in a market that traded in wildlife in Wuhan, it is unclear how the virus passed from animals to people. Maria van Kerkhove, a WHO specialist in viruses, said it was important to determine this intermediate host.

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