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Dr Harsh Vardhan takes charge as WHO Executive Board chairman

  • Category
    International Organisation
  • Published
    30th May, 2020

India would now be playing a more prominent role at the World Health Organisation (WHO), with Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan set to take charge as chairman of the WHO Executive Board at its 147th session.


India would now be playing a more prominent role at the World Health Organisation (WHO), with Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan set to take charge as chairman of the WHO Executive Board at its 147th session.


  • The WHO, a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health, is currently at the forefront of global efforts towards containing the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  • India is a member state of the South East Asia Region at the WHO.
  • Last year, the bloc had unanimously decided that India’s nominee would be elected to the executive board for a three-year term beginning May.
  • Vardhan would succeed Dr Hiroki Nakatani of Japan, currently the Chairman of the 34-member WHO Executive Board.


What is World Health Organisation?


  • WHO (World Health Organisation) is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system.
  • It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.
  • WHO was founded in 1948. India became a party to the WHO Constitution on 12 January 1948.
  • The WHO is governed by two decision-making bodies:
    • World Health Assembly: The Health Assembly is the WHO’s decision-making body, and consists of 194 Member States.
    • WHO Executive Board:
  • The agency’s headquarters are located at Geneva in Switzerland. 

Objectives of the World Health Organization (WHO):

  • To create an interface between the developed and developing nations when
    pertaining to health issues.
  • To patronize and support health programs in developing nations.
  • To periodically formulate health policies that are readily endorsed by
  • To coordinate and oversee the procurement of health services.
  • To immerse in disease inspection and analysis.
  • To involve itself in promoting health and also to impart health education.
  • To collaborate with governments and administrations all over the world to
    endorse health promotional programs.

The WHO Executive Board:

  • The WHO Executive Board is composed of 34 members technically qualified in the field of health, with members being elected for three-year terms.
  • The Board chairman’s post is held by rotation for one year by each of the WHO’s six regional groups:
    • African Region
    • Region of the Americas
    • South-East Asia Region
    • European Region
    • Eastern Mediterranean Region
    • Western Pacific Region
  • The main functions of the Board are to give effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly, to advise it and generally to facilitate its work.
  • The Board and the Assembly create a forum for debate on health issues and for addressing concerns raised by Member States.

India at the WHO:

  • India became a party to the WHO Constitution on 12 January 1948.
  • The first session of the South East Asia Regional Committee was held on October 4-5, 1948 in the office of the Indian Minister of Health, and was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister.
  • The first Regional Director for South East Asia was an Indian, Dr Chandra Mani, who served between 1948-1968.
  • Currently, the post has again been occupied by an Indian appointee, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, who has been in office since 2014.
  • Since 2019, Dr Soumya Swaminathan has been the WHO’s Chief Scientist.

What does India’s selection mean?

  • As head of the 34-member Executive Board, India’s nominee would have to work closely with Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The board, one diplomat familiar with the working of the WHO said, after all is mandated to implement the decisions and policies laid down by the World Health Assembly.
  • For all practical purposes, this implies that the Director General of the WHO has to get the chairperson on board for all important decisions, the diplomat said.
  • India will also be a member of the programme budget and administration committee, replacing Indonesia.
  • The 34-member executive board is mandated to interview the candidates to decide who will stay in the running and face the election at the health assembly..
  • Earlier, the executive board used to have the last word on the appointment of the WHO’s Director General for all practical purposes. It would select the director general and send the nomination to the general assembly for formal vetting.
  • But this process was changed and the executive board was told to whittle down the list of candidates. This short list went to the annual ministerial gathering of WHO’s 194 member states, World Health Assembly, for election among the top three contenders by a secret ballot.
  • By virtue of being on the executive board for three years, India will also have a say in the shortlisting of the next WHO director general when Tedros Adhanom’s five-year-tenure ends in May 2021.


In an ideal world, India would want to use this opportunity to strengthen its leadership credentials by doing what it does best: leveraging its relatively advanced pharmaceutical industry and playing a technocratic role. India must push for a transparent and crystal clear probe on the coronavirus outbreak and the world must not waste time mourning missed chances. India must take the lead and WHO member nations must extend their support.


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