New Delhi: The ten member states of the South-East Asia Region (SEAR) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) ‘nominated’ Bangladeshi candidate Saima Wazed as head of WHO’s SEAR office on November 1. Wazed, the daughter of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, got the votes of India, Bangladesh and six other member states out of 10 which took part in the voting.
Thank you to @WHOSEARO Member States for choosing me to be their next Regional Director!
I would like to pay tribute to our outgoing RD, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, for her decade of service to the public health of our region.
A special tribute as well for my fellow nominee in…
— Saima Wazed (@drSaimaWazed) November 1, 2023
The SEAR consists of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste. Myanmar was not eligible to vote. The other candidate in the fray was Nepal’s Shambhu Acharya. He got two votes, including that of Nepal.
Thanks to each and everyone of you:
global public health professionals, my entire country, media, eminent personalities, civil society, every citizen for supporting me during my campaign. It will remain in my heart forever!
— Shambhu Acharya (@acharyas1) November 1, 2023
Wazed, who is the first kin of a political head to be elected to a WHO post, had faced charges of nepotism against her. According to her CV filed with the application for the post, she has a Master’s of Science degree in Clinical Psychology and is pursuing a PhD degree in education and leadership with a specialisation in human resource development. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at the department of education and counselling at University of Dhaka and a clinical instructor at Barry University’s department of school psychology in the US. She has worked in various organisations as an expert in mental health.
The Lancet, in a scathing commentary on way elections to posts of various regional directors were being conducted, wrote last month:
“A World Report in this week’s issue of The Lancet highlights criticism over apparent nepotism in the nomination of candidates for election in the South-East Asia region – one candidate is the daughter of the nominating country’s Prime Minister. Such examples damage trust in the integrity of WHO’s leaders”.
Health Policy Watch has also made similar comments in a piece titled, ‘Shenanigans in WHO South-East Asia as Politician’s Daughter Contests Regional Director Election’. However, Wazed denied all these allegations in an article she wrote.
Acharya, on the other hand, is a public health specialist and has already held several posts at the WHO and one at the World Bank. He started as programme manager at the WHO. He has worked on various field assignments in Nepal. He has a PhD degree in health policy and financing. Currently, he is director, country strategy and support, office of the Director-General, World Health Organisation. In an interview to The Wire recently, he said he had worked as a scientist, technical officer, manager and director. He had pitched his varied and long experience in various areas of public health to member states for their votes.
Now, after the member states have cast their votes, the result will be submitted to the WHO’s Executive Board. The Board, according to the WHO, will ‘appoint’ the ‘Regional Director elect’ Wazed to the post. The next meeting of the Board is scheduled to take place on January 22-27, 2024. The five-year term of the new regional director would begin from February 1, 2024.