Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, who is leading the country’s battle against Covid-19 in the country, will be India’s nominee to be the next WHO Executive Board chairman, people familiar with the development said.
A senior government official said the health minister would be elected at the World Health Organisation‘s Executive Board’s meeting on 22 May. The election is a procedural formality.
“It is not a full time assignment… But Dr Harsh Vardhan will be required to chair the executive board’s bi-annual meetings,” a senior government official said.
Vardhan would succeed Dr Hiroki Nakatani of Japan, currently the Chairman of the 34-member WHO Executive Board.
The proposal to appoint India’s nominee to the executive board was signed by the 194-nation World Health Assembly on Tuesday, officials said on condition of anonymity.
His taking over the post seems to be a formality after the decision that he will be India’s nominee as the 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.
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The chairman’s post is held by rotation for one year among regional groups and it was decided last year that India’s nominee would be the Executive Board chairman for the first year starting Friday.
The Executive Board is composed of 34 individuals technically qualified in the field of health, each one designated by a member state elected to do so by the World Health Assembly. Member States are elected for three-year terms.
The Board meets at least twice a year and the main meeting is normally in January, with a second shorter meeting in May, immediately after the Health Assembly.
The main functions of the Executive Board are to give effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly, to advise it and generally to facilitate its work.
Addressing the 73rd World Health Assembly via video conferencing on Monday, Harsh Vardhan had said India took all the necessary steps well in time to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, the 194-nation World Health Assembly signed off on the proposal to appoint India’s nominee to the executive board. Former health minister JP Nadda had chaired a similar session of the WHA back in 2016.
He had asserted that the country has done well in dealing with the disease and is confident of doing better in the months to come.
India is set to take over the chairmanship of the Executive Board amid growing calls, including by US President Donald Trump, to investigate how the coronavirus originated in China’s Wuhan city and subsequent action by Beijing.
Harsh Vardhan, who will continue in the executive board after the one-year term as chairman ends, will also have a say in shortlisting the next WHO director general when Tedros Adhanom’s five-year-tenure ends in May 2021.
Earlier, the executive board would select the WHO director general and get its choice vetted by the health assembly. But this procedure was changed before Tedros Adhanom was appointed. The board is now required to shortlist candidates whose candidature is put before the World Health Assembly for election by a secret ballot.