Why Dr Shambhu Acharya should be the WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia Region

Public health experts in Kathmandu call for transparency in the selection process of WHO SEARO and ask the government to firmly stand behind Dr Shambhu Acharya.

NL Today

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Kathmandu: Amidst what seems like an open lobbying by Prime Minister of Bangladesh to make her daughter Saima Wazed WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia Region Office (WHO SEARO) by visiting different summits and possibly also influencing the world leaders to get her daughter elected to the coveted post, public health experts in Kathmandu have said there should be a rigorous validation of the qualification, competencies and claims of candidates vying for the post while also ensuring greater transparency in the selection process.

Professionals from health sectors and members of civil society in Kathmandu on Sunday asked the government of Nepal as well as other stakeholders to stand firmly for Dr Acharya.

The government of Nepal had proposed Dr Acharya as the candidate for WHO SEARO in August. There are two candidates vying for the post from South Asia—Dr Shambhu Acharya from Nepal and Saima Wazed, the daughter of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.    

Wazed has a master’s degree in psychology and specializes in autism. Her official title is chairperson of Bangladesh’s National Advisory Committee on Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Dr Acharya is one of the WHO’s senior-most officials.

“Considering the public health challenges we are facing, it would be shameful to have the next WHO SEARO leadership without adequate qualifications and which will limit achieving the entire objective of the promotion of global health, making the world safer, serving the poor and vulnerable,” said Dr Rita Thapa, who was the first women Director of Health Systems at WHO, SEARO. “Dr Shambhu Acharya is the fittest candidate for the WHO SEARO leadership role,” she said.  Dr Thapa also requested the Chair of WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia, Lyonopo Dasho Dechen, health minister of Bhutan “to undertake a rigorous validation of the qualification, competencies and claims of candidates, ensure greater transparency in the selection process.” She requested the government of Nepal to support Dr Acharya at “highest gear.”

Dr Badri Raj Pande, public health expert and former Regional Program Management Officer at WHO SEARO, said that the election on November 1 will be a moral question for the United Nations. “It’s a moral issue for the UN. On the one hand there is a competent and qualified candidate by all means and on the other there is a candidate who is less qualified with less public health background.”

Senior journalist Kanak Mani Dixit said that the government of Nepal could push for withdrawing the candidacy of Dr Acharya in the name of keeping the Nepal-Bangladesh relations smooth. “In every international forum, Bangladesh PM has been taking her daughter Saima along and introducing her to top officials,” he said. “In the name of keeping Nepal-Bangladesh relations smooth, an attempt could be made to withdraw the candidacy of Dr Acharya.”

This should not be allowed to happen, he said.

On the occasion, experts from various fields also issued a statement backing the candidacy of Dr Acharya for WHO SEARO.

[Related: Eminent personalities of Nepal back Dr Shambhu Acharya for WHO Regional Director]