New Delhi: After being the World Health Organization’s (WHO) second highest official for a year and a half, India’s Soumya Swaminathan has now been appointed chief scientist at the global body and will no longer be holding the portfolio of deputy director general (DDG).
Swaminathan was previously the head of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and in October 2017, was made the WHO’s DDG.
She was the first Indian and first Indian woman to hold this position. The new DDG, Zsuzsanna Jakab is also a woman. Jacob is currently regional director for WHO Europe.
The WHO calls this their “most wide-ranging reforms in the organisation’s history to modernise and strengthen the institution.”
Swaminathan’s transfer comes as part of a sweeping rejig at the WHO.
The new WHO Structure, announced today. pic.twitter.com/2lHvVuR7qd
— James Love (@jamie_love) March 6, 2019
— Ruediger.Krech (@Ruediger_Krech) March 6, 2019
Swaminathan has had a long career in scientific research in India. She is a paediatrician by training and has worked closely on HIV and TB. She has also been on various global teams working on public health such as with the WHO, UN, Lancet, UNICEF, UNDP and World Bank.
According to a WHO press release, the chief scientist role that Swaminathan takes on is a newly-created division meant to boost WHO’s scientific work and ensure more quality and consistency in it. Reuters reports that this is also to ensure that WHO is at the top of “frontier technologies” so that its member countries can benefit first from breakthrough research.
The aim of this new division headed by Swaminathan is also to create new career opportunities for scientists. Earlier this year, WHO’s Director-General Tedros had spoken about how scientists should have an environment that allows them to pursue science, without having to try for managerial positions in order to go up in their career tracks. “We don’t want our scientists to compete for director position; we want them to grow through a professional stream,” he reportedly said.
Apart from this, the WHO’s rejig will also see the set-up of a “WHO Academy” to provide training to an estimated ten million public health professionals globally and also provide learning opportunities for current staff.
The WHO also plans to start a new division for data and analytics, geared towards driving policy change.