As part of its ‘sweeping reforms’ the World Health Organisation (WHO) has named Dr Soumya Swaminathan as the organisation’s Chief Scientist in a new department. She was formerly the Deputy Director General of Programs of the WHO and incidentally was the first Indian to have held this position. Taking over for Dr Soumya will be the WHO’s current Region Director from WHO Europe, Zsuzsanna Jakab.
Dr Soumya, was one of three Deputy Director Generals (DDG) who assisted the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Her new role of Chief Scientist has been specifically created for her by the Director. She will be based out Geneva.
“What will be announced today will be the result of your ideas. For the past 18 months, they (WHO officials) have been relentless in conducting a root-and-branch examination of what we do, why we do it, and how we can do it better,” Director Ghebreyesus reportedly said.
“This newly created position of chief scientist will give me an opportunity to strengthen WHO's core normative work, promote research on public health priorities and strengthen health research capacity in countries including on ethics, and accelerate access to digital technologies to improve health,” Dr Soumya said to the Mint.
The WHO’s new division will focus on digital health and innovation in order to stay on par with latest scientific and digital advances in the realm of healthcare.
Dr Soumya was born in Chennai on May 2 1959 to MS Swaminathan, the ‘Father of the Green Revolution’ and Indian educationist, Mina Swaminathan. She completed her MBBS from Armed Forces College and subsequently pursued an MD at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. She also completed a postdoctoral fellowship in paediatric pulmonology from the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine in the US. She has worked extensively on tuberculosis and HIV related research and awareness programs.
In October 2017, Dr Soumya joined the WHO and was made the DDGP.