Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who is at the forefront of India’s battle against COVID-19 pandemic, took charge as the chairman of the 34-member WHO Executive Board on Friday, officials said.
Vardhan, who succeeded Dr Hiroki Nakatani from Japan, offered his condolences at the loss of lives due to the cooronavirus pandemic across the globe.
In his remarks after being elected as the chairman of the WHO executive board, he also said a strengthening of global partnerships and a shared response was needed to deal with the current crisis caused by the pandemic.
The proposal to appoint India’s nominee to the executive board was signed by the 194-nation World Health Assembly on Tuesday.
Last year, WHO’s South-East Asia group had unanimously decided to elect India’s nominee to the executive board for a three-year-term beginning May.
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.
It is not a full-time assignment and the minister will just be required to chair the Executive Board’s meetings, an official said.
The Executive Board comprises 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, Vardhan had said India took all necessary steps well in time to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
Towards the end of his speech, Vardhan also initiated a standing ovation by the board for all the ‘Covid warriors’ across the globe.
India takes 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.