Bangladeshi PM’s daughter secures WHO regional head’s position


DHAKA: On Wednesday, regional countries voted overwhelmingly to nominate Saima Wazed, the daughter of Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina, to serve as the World Health Organisation’s director for Southeast Asia, despite controversies surrounding her qualifications and allegations of nepotism.

WHO officials confirmed that Wazed was voted in as the nominee for the post during a closed-doors meeting in New Delhi.

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WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a congratulatory post on X, formerly known as Twitter, referring to Wazed, “You have earned the confidence and trust of the Member States in the region”. He added “I am committed and look forward to working closely with you for a healthier, safer, fairer South-East Asia.”

Ten of the WHO’s regional member-states voted for Wazed, the daughter of Sheikh Hasina, while two voted for Shambhu Acharya, a Nepalese and the only other candidate for the job. In a social media post, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs Md Shahriar Alam said Wazed was elected by an 8-2 vote.

The WHO said the nomination of Wazed would be submitted to the UN health body’s executive board in late January 2024 in Geneva, where it was all but certain to be approved.

“As far as I know, the nomination by a regional committee of a candidate was always confirmed at the Executive Board meeting, and the nominee appointed at that meeting,” Fadela Chaib, a WHO spokeswoman in Geneva said.

Wazed is expected to formally assume the role in February, the WHO release said. The role has a five-year tenure, which can be extended once.

The WHO’s Southeast Asia region also includes Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor-Leste.

Critics argue that the WHO position requires a person with technical expertise, and that current holders of equivalent positions have a Ph.D. in a public health-related field or a medical degree.

Wazed graduated from Barry University in the United States in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and, in 2002, received a master’s degree in clinical psychology. She was awarded an honorary doctorate by a local university named after her grandfather.

By contrast, Acharya’s supporters point out that the Nepalese has a Ph.D. in public health, taught at several prestigious American institutions, including Johns Hopkins University, and has served in WHO’s global public health settings for 30 years.

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Wazed did not respond to repeated requests for comments about the controversies, but she labeled criticism as “sexism” against her.

“I don’t know if it’s just because I’m a Muslim woman or my mother is a politician,” she previously told The Financial Times. “I don’t know why my qualifications come so much into question, but I’m used to that kind of criticism.”

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