ICMR chief Soumya Swaminathan gets key role at WHO

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has been appointed the deputy director general for programmes (DDP) of World Health Organisation (WHO).

Dr Soumya Swaminathan  

A paediatrician and a clinical scientist and known for her research on tuberculosis, 58-year-old Dr Swaminathan also holds a key position as secretary in the department of health research, ministry of health and family welfare.

She will now hold the second-highest position at WHO. Presumably she will have to resign from her Indian roles, though this has not officially been made clear yet.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who took over as director general of WHO in July, announced the appointment on Tuesday along with the senior team at the global health agency under the aegis of the United Nations.

Dr Swaminathan has more than 30 years of experience in clinical care, research and translating those findings into programmes. Described as the 'Father of Economic Ecology' by the United Nations Environment Programme, Dr Swaminathan has been named by Time magazine as one of the 20 most influential Indians of the 20th century, along with Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.

The WHO announcement described her as "a globally-recognised researcher on tuberculosis and HIV, [who] brings with her 30 years of experience in clinical care and research and has worked throughout her career to translate research into impactful programmes".

Dr Swaminathan graduated from the Armed Forces Medical College in Pune, got her MD from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and did a fellowship at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. She subsequently held post-doctoral medical fellowship in paediatric pulmonology at the Children's Hospital Los Angeles, Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. She has bagged over nine awards in the field of medicine so far.

According to WHO, from 2009 to 2011 Dr Swaminathan also served as Coordinator of the UNICEF / UNDP / World Bank / WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) in Geneva.

A globally recognised researcher on tuberculosis and HIV, Dr Swaminathan has also been a member of several WHO and global advisory bodies, including the WHO Expert Panel to Review Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property, and the Strategic and Technical Advisory Group of the Global TB Department at WHO.

She was also the co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Tuberculosis. From 2009 to 2011, she served as coordinator of UNICEF, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), in the World Bank, and WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) in Geneva.

She has published more than 250 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters.

Dr Swaminathan is the daughter of M S Swaminathan, considered the father of Green Revolution in India. Her mother Mina Swaminathan is a well-known educationist.

Among other new appointments at WHO, Britain's Jane Ellison will serve as deputy director general for corporate operations.

The new team at WHO includes former ministers of health, some of the world's leading physicians, scientists and researchers, and programmatic experts in universal health coverage, health emergencies, communicable and non-communicable diseases, climate and environmental health, and women's, adolescents' and children's health.

Individually and collectively, they have a wealth of experience across government, private sector, multilateral, civil society and academic organizations, according to the WHO announcement.

''The team represents 14 countries, including all WHO regions, and is more than 60 per cent women, reflecting my deep-held belief that we need top talent, gender equity and a geographically diverse set of perspectives to fulfil our mission to keep the world safe,'' said Dr Tedros in a press statement.