India is on a trajectory to change the global order. On May 22, 2020, India will take a leadership position at the World Health Organization (WHO). The country will be nominating a representative for the post of the Chairman of the WHO Executive Board.

This comes as no surprise after the way India has been handling itself in the current coronavirus (COVID-19) situation winning numerous brownie points, not just with the UN but globally. In fact, at a virtual meeting of G20 leaders on March 26th, PM Narendra Modi called for reforms at WHO, saying the policies were based on the last century’s model and not adapted to deal with new challenges like COVID-19.

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On April 14, 2020, the extension of the nationwide lockdown drew attention from World Health Organization (WHO) terming it as “India’s tough and timely actions” taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Furthermore, WHO’s South-East Asia Regional Director, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh said, “It may be early to talk about results in numbers, but a six-week nationwide lockdown to facilitate effective physical distancing, coupled with the expansion of core public health measures such as detection, isolation and tracing contact of coronavirus positive people, would go a long way in arresting the virus spread,”

The Election

At the Executive Board’s Seventy-third World Health Assembly at the Palais des Nations and the International Conference Centre in Geneva, May 18-23, 2020, the World Health Assembly (WHA) will formally elect the executive board members. India will be taking over the reins from Japan.

The Assembly will be addressed by Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus whose sole focus and speech are expected to centre on the Covid-19 preparedness and response. The 60 items on the agenda will be replaced by only the three most urgent agenda items. Later the assembly will formally elect the executive board members and chair including India.

The Responsibility

The Chairman of the World Health Organization (WHO) as head of the 34-member Executive Board, reports and works closely with Director General of WHO. India will have a notable say in the decisions and policies laid down by the World Health Assembly. At the same time, it will also take over from Indonesia, as a member of the programme budget and administration committee.

In May 2021, India will also play an important role in shortlisting the next director general of the WHO, to replace the current Director General Tedros Adhanom when he completes his five-year tenure in office. The 34-member executive board is mandated to interview the candidates from WHO’s 194 member states to decide which top three contenders will stay in the running and face an election by secret ballot at the health assembly.

Another Shining Star

India has already established its presence at the World Health Organization. In March 2019, Soumya Swaminathan an Indian pediatrician and acclaimed clinical research scientist in tuberculosis was appointed as Chief Scientist at WHO. Previously, she also served as the Deputy Director General of Programmes at the World Health Organization from October 2017 to March 2019.

WHO in India

Image Credits: Piyush Goyal FB page

World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to India, Henk Bekedam, at New Delhi, has been working closely with the Health Ministry of India, ever since the first case of the 2019–20 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in India was reported on 30 January 2020. Subsequently, he not only lauded the Prime Minister’s decisive leadership to curb the coronavirus (COVID-19) from spreading but also states, “The government has also aggressively stepped up the response measures – find, isolate, test, treat and trace. WHO is supporting the government’s endeavor to further strengthen and intensify surveillance and build capacity of the health system. WHO stands together in solidarity with the government in its firm resolve to overcome this unprecedented challenge.”


Human health is a quintessential global concern. The pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan, China and first reported to the WHO Country Office in China on 31 December 2019, has been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020. Countries are being called upon to act with speed, scale, and clear-minded together determination. Transparency, accountability, and prompt action in the Covid-19 outbreak has earned India, a distinct place on a world health platform. With 2,971,669 positive cases worldwide, 206,544 deaths, and still counting, it won’t be an easy task for India to step into a role of high-power and responsibility but India is READY!


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