The World Health Organization appointed Soumya Swaminathan the chief scientist who will head a new division created to strengthen the body’s work and ensure that quality standards are met. She will work out of Geneva in Switzerland.
Swaminathan has more than 30 years of experience in clinical care, research and translating those findings into programmes. She was one of the three deputy director-generals assisting the WHO director-general in monitoring the programmes. She was the first Indian to hold the post.
She had joined the WHO in October 2017. She will be replaced by Zsuzsanna Jakab, who is currently the regional director of the organisation in Europe, Mint reported.
Her appointment to the new division is part of the WHO’s reforms to “modernise and strengthen the institution to play its role more effectively and efficiently as the world’s leading authority on public health”. Swaminathan said told Mint that the newly created position will allow her to strengthen WHO’s core normative work. “It will give me a platform to promote research on public health priorities and strengthen health research capacity in countries including on ethics, and accelerate access to digital technologies to improve health,” Swaminathan said.
The reforms are to ensure that the organisation meets its “triple billion” targets in the next five years. WHO’s targets are “one billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage, one billion more people better protected from health emergencies and one billion more people enjoying better health and well-being”.
Soumya Swaminathan is a well known medical researcher and health policy expert. She is a researcher on HIV and tuberculosis. The chief scientist is the daughter of MS Swaminathan, considered to be the father of India’s Green Revolution, and educationalist Mina Swaminathan.
Her career includes stints as coordinator at the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, United Nations Development Programme, World Bank and WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases in Geneva. She was also the director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research and secretary at the Indian Health Ministry’s Department of Health Research.
She has also served on numerous WHO panels and global advisory bodies.