Supporting Nepal’s candidate for Regional Director of WHO-SEARO – South Asia Time

Supporting Nepal’s candidate for Regional Director of WHO-SEARO

 October 9, 2023  

Kathmandu: Prominent figures in Nepal have expressed their support for Dr Shambhu Acharya as the candidate for the position of Regional Director of the World Health Organization’s Southeast Asia Regional Office (SEARO).

During a press conference held in Kathmandu on Sunday, eminent individuals warmly embraced the Nepali government’s nomination of Dr Acharya for the prestigious role of regional director for WHO’s Southeast Asia region.

In a joint statement, they emphasized the importance of a transparent selection process to ensure that a highly qualified and deserving candidate is chosen for this crucial position.

Several highly respected global health journals,such as The Lancet, the British MedicalJournal  and others have highlighted the importance of the WHO-SEARO Regional Director’s position and called for the appointment of a suitably qualified candidate for the post. Dr. Acharya has been acknowledged by many global health professionals and leaders as the most qualifiedcandidate for this crucial position, even beyond the present contest.

“In contrast, the only other candidate in competition for the position is regarded by the public health and medical fraternity as apolitical protégé with a privileged pedigreewhose thin resumé  is not adequate to lead a complex global health institution such as WHO-SEARO. The unabashed, high-profile lobbying at senior most political levels, aided by a mother’s access to global leaders at unrelated summits and conclaves, has generated cautionary commentary not only inpublic health circles but also in journals ofrenown and credible international media,” the joint statement said.

In the current post-Covid public health environment with its numerous challenges, including those related to income disparities, climate crisis, and the potential surge of new vectors with potential for great destruction, UNleaders steering health issues must have strongcredentials and  proven dynamism, the statement said.

“Because Dr. Acharya achieving the positionof Regional Director would be beneficial forour  entire region, we believe the Government of Nepal must redouble efforts among concerned governments of the region in favour of his outstanding candidacy. Further, we demand a transparent election process so that the better qualified candidate is elected to this important position,” the statement said.

Need for a capable leadership

The eminent personalities also underscored the vital significance of the Regional Director’s role in safeguarding the future health and well-being of the hundreds of millions of people residing in South and South East Asia region. They have emphasised on the need for capable leadership within the WHO to effectively address and monitor numerous medical and public health challenges facing the region.

The organisation’s 11 member countries—Nepal, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, DPR Korea, the Maldives, Timor Leste, Indonesia and Thailand—will nominate the organization’s next regional director through a closed-door SEARO session set to be held between October 30 and November 2.

Nepal and Bangladesh have fielded candidates for the post. Acharya is the senior-most official of the WHO while another candidate Saima Wazed is the daughter of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

“It is obvious to us that Dr. Acharya is the better fit between the two candidates nominated for the position. He possesses a very strong public health background and has extensive leadership experience in tackling global health issues. Dr. Acharya has impeccable credentials with a PhD in public health, specialising in health policy and planning from a globally renowned university; a Masters in Sociology focusing on social policy; and an MBA in public finance and strategic management,” they said.

Dr. Acharya knows the public health and medical challenges of our region intimately, having worked for three decades strengthening responses at local, national, regional and global levels, including in Nepal, Bangladesh and India, apart from his responsibilities at WHO headquarters in Geneva. Dr. Acharya managed large-scale World Bank-funded projects in health and population in Bangladesh and played a key role in establishing the Asia-Pacific Health Economics Network to build the health financing capacity of WHO member states, the statement reads.

Working directly with the Director-General WHO, Dr. Acharya has been part of high-level policy and strategy decisions, which have also included interactions with heads of government, ministers, and health professionals all over the Asian continent. Dr Acharya has represented WHO in various UN bodies advocating for universal health coverage within the broader UN development agenda. Most recently, Dr Acharya played a central role in ensuring that WHO was effective in response to the COVID-19 crisis in the most seriously affected countries.

Signatories in the joint statement include former minister and ambassador Nilamber Acharya; former assistant secretary general and deputy executive director at UNICEF Kul Chandra Gautam; Professor Rita Thapa, who was instrumental in Nepal’s Primary Health Care; Dr Bhagwan Koirala, chairman of Nepal Medical Council; Dr Naresh Pratap KC, Executive Director of Family Planning Association of Nepal; Professor Madhu Dixit, former Associate Dean at the Institute of Medicine, Tribhuvan University; Dr Sudha Sharma, former Health Secretary; Bishow Parajuli, former UNDP resident coordinator; and Dr Badri Pande, a public health expert.

(All pics by Bikas Rauniar)