In these testing times, India is set to take up a leadership role at the World Health Organisation. India is set to occupy the post of the Chairman of the Executive Board of WHO for a period of three years starting May 22, 2020. The reigns of the Geneva based body will be handed by Dr Hiroki Nakatani of Japan to India’s elected representative Dr Harsha Vardhan.
Dr Harsh Vardhan, a medical professional who worked as an otolaryngologist is the current Minister of Health and Family Welfare in the Indian government. He has been at the forefront leading India’s response to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. He will be at the helm of the body starting Friday.
The image of the World Health Organisation has taken quite a beating over its handling of the pandemic. It has got the tag of being China’s mouthpiece during the crisis. The Director General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ actions of peddling the information provided by them and ignoring concerns raised by nations like Taiwan on issues such as human to human transmission have tarnished its credibility.
At the time of writing, the number of cases of the pandemic just crossed 50 million and the casualty count stood at 325,000. With the numbers rising rapidly with each passing day, the Chinese propensity to hide information is not aiding the global response. Questions are being raised about China’s data. Many experts believe China is underreporting numbers. A leak of data of the Tencent tracker in February showed a death toll of 25,000 in China. It was later taken down.
Amidst this pandemic, China is being belligerent with its military operations. It is using the pandemic to further its expansionist strategy and pressurise nations in towing its line. From claiming Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan as its territory and attacking vessels in the South and East China Sea; to raising economic tariffs against Australia and needling India at the border. It has been going on an offensive to call off demands for a probe into the origins of the virus that began in the city of Wuhan.
With growing pressure China acceded to a probe into the origins of the virus monitored by the WHO. With Dr. Tedros at the helm of the probe, the world is quite sceptical about its results. Thus the nations at the World Health Assembly have been pushing for an independent probe.
Quite a situation for Dr Harsh Vardhan to step into. The world has its eyes on India. It hopes the presence of India at the high table will bring back the neutrality of the WHO and oversee a better response of the body against the pandemic.
India has high ambitions of reclaiming its lost place in the world. The Prime Minister has vocally spoken about India rising to the stature of the ‘Vishwa Guru’ where it emerges as the path bearer of humanity armed with its traditional and historic knowledge. This is India’s opportunity to show the world it has the pedigree to be a global leader.