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Saima Wazed elected WHO regional director for South East Asia

Saima Wazed has been elected as World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director for South East Asia (SEARO) for the next five years. She won the election by 8-2 vote.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam confirmed the development on Wednesday.

Among the candidates, Saima Wazed was nominated by Bangladesh, and Dr Shambhu Prasad Acharya was nominated by Nepal.

The Regional Committee of WHO South-East Asia voted today to nominate the next regional director in a closed meeting during its 76th session in New Delhi, India. Health Minister Zahed Maleque and health secretary, among others, were present.

Reacting to the news, Saima Wazed wrote on her X (formerly Twitter) account: “Thank you to @WHOSEARO Member States for choosing me to be their next Regional Director!”

“I would like to pay tribute to our outgoing RD, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, for her decade of service to the public health of our region.

“A special tribute as well for my fellow nominee in this race, Dr. Acharya. In his long & distinguished career, he has been an invaluable asset to @WHO – and I hope our region will continue to benefit from his knowledge & experience.

“I look forward to building a healthier South-East Asia,” she wrote.

The nomination will be submitted for appointment by the 154th session of the WHO Executive Board, which takes place from January 22 to 27, 2024 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The newly appointed regional director will take office on February 1, 2024 for a five-year term and be eligible for reappointment once.

Earlier, Saima was nominated by the Government of Bangladesh for the post of regional director of WHO SEARO.

Saima Wazed’s significant achievements include drafting three international resolutions that were subsequently adopted by member countries of the UN and WHO:

– In 2014 at WHO 67.8

Comprehensive and Coordinated Efforts for the Management of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

– In 2012 WHO-RC: SEA/RC65/ R8

Comprehensive and Coordinated Efforts for the Management of Autism Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Disabilities.

– In 2012 UNGA: 67/82

Addressing the Socioeconomic Needs of Individuals, Families and Societies Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders, Developmental Disorders and Associated Disabilities.

Saima Wazed is currently completing her doctoral studies at Barry University (USA) in Organisational Leadership. She has been an Advisor to the Director General of WHO on Mental Health and Autism since 2019, and is a member of WHO’s Expert Advisory Panel on Mental Health since 2014.

In August 2023 she was appointed as an Associate Fellow at the Global Health Program at Chatham House, where she has also been serving since 2022 as a Commissioner at the Commission for Universal Health.

Since 2020, she has served as Thematic Ambassador for Vulnerability for the Climate Vulnerable Forum, and from 2017 to 2019 was appointed as WHO SEARO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Autism.

In Bangladesh, she is the Chief Advisor for the National Mental Health Strategic Plan 2020-2025, and since 2012 has been Chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on Autism and NDDs.

Her current academic and training work includes being Adjunct Faculty at Barry University in the USA, Visiting Faculty at Dhaka University, Visiting Specialist at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital, and Visiting Faculty at the National Institute of Mental Health in Dhaka.

Over her years of service, she has received a number of international awards, including a citation for Excellence in Public Health by WHO SEARO, the Distinguished Alumni Award by Barry University in the USA, International Champion Award by Shema Kolainu in the USA, and was listed by Columbia University as an Innovative (Women) Leader in Global Mental Health.