Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan takes charge as Chairman of WHO Executive Board

Photo courtesy: Twitter/@drharshvardhan
Photo courtesy: Twitter/@drharshvardhan

India’s Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Friday formally took charge as Chairman of the World Health Organization Executive Board. 

The minister succeeds Dr Hiroki Nakatani from Japan.

“I’m well aware that I’m taking over as Chair of the WHO Executive Board at a time when the world is facing a grave health threat from COVID-19. However, such situations demand a shared responsibility to act and a greater degree of ‘shared idealism’ of nations,” said Vardhan after taking charge. 

The proposal to appoint India's nominee to the board was signed by the 194-nation World Health Assembly on Tuesday. WHO's South-East Asia group had unanimously decided last year that India would be elected to the executive board for a three-year-term beginning May. 

The main functions of the 34-member executive board are to give effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly, to advise it and generally to facilitate its work.

The chairman's post is held on a rotational basis for a period of one year among regional groups. The decision to make India's nominee the Executive Board chairman for the first year was taken in 2019. 

The 34 individuals comprising the Executive Board are all qualified in the field of health. Each individual is designated by a member state elected to do so by the World Health Assembly with member states elected for three-year terms.

The Board meets at least twice a year – a main meeting usually in January, and a shorter meeting in May. 

The WHO has been facing a tough time recently with calls across the world for an investigation into the outbreak and subsequent spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. United States President Donald Trump has frozen American funding to the world health body and recently wrote a scathing letter to the Director-General Dr Tedros, threatening to permanently cut US funding.