WHO Southeast Asia Post: Health Experts Worried Over India’s Support for Sheikh Hasina’s Daughter

At least 60 public health experts have written to the UN agency demanding more transparency in the process.

New Delhi: The controversy over the election of the head of World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Southeast Asia Regional Office (SEARO) refused to die down as 60 public health experts have written to the UN agency demanding more transparency in the process, The Telegraph reported.

Saima Wazed, daughter of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is one of the contenders for the post. The other one is Shambhu Prasad Acharya, a public health specialist from Nepal.

India is one of the 11 member states of the SEARO, and, therefore, will vote in the polls. Quoting a Press Information Bureau statement, The Telegraph has reported that India has already indicated its support for the Bangladesh prime minister’s daughter – a move that experts have termed as an instance of giving geopolitics greater importance over public health.

Wazed was prominently visible in the recently held G20 Summit in New Delhi along with her mother. Bangladesh has already thanked India for its support.

Three of the signatories told the newspaper that Hasina’s daughter doesn’t have “technical, administrative or public health experience” to head the office. Bangladesh had nominated her because she was the prime minister’s daughter, they claimed. This is one of the rare instances that the daughter of a serving prime minister is contesting to become head of the regional office of the WHO.

The Telegraph’s attempt to get a response for her before publication of the report did not yield anything.

Nepal’s candidate, Acharya, is a public health specialist with a PhD in public health, health policy and financing from the University of North Carolina in the US. He has served the WHO for three decades in different capacities.

Wazed has an MSc degree in clinical psychology from Barry University (US). She has been a member of the WHO’s expert advisory panel on mental health for over nine years, and an adviser to the WHO’s director-general on mental health and autism for four years, according to her CV, submitted as part of the application for the post.

“If public health is the sole criterion on which countries vote, Acharya will absolutely win, but when the other candidate is the daughter of a prime minister, it is not an equal battle,” the newspaper quoted a signatory as saying.

However, an expert also expressed surprise at the “coordinated campaign” against Wazed.

“Surprised to see a well-coordinated negative campaign going on against Bangladesh(‘s) candidate for WHO SEAR RD …,” Monir Islam, former WHO representative in Thailand and Namibia and former director of health systems development at the WHO, Geneva, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on Friday.

The Southeast Asia Region of the WHO has many complex public health problems to tackle. The countries in this region have the highest burden of some of the diseases which are major challenges for the WHO. And, therefore, an expert in public health, whosoever becomes head of this regional office of the WHO, will have a lot to deal with.