New Delhi: India today regained the position of Regional Director of World Health Organisation's South-East Asia Region after a gap of 44 years with its nominee Poonam Khetarpal Singh, a former IAS officer, being today elected by member countries.
India had last occupied the post from 1948 to 1968 but had not held it since then.
64-year-old Singh takes over from Samlee Plianbangchang of Thailand, who has served as regional director for 10 years now (two consecutive terms since 2004). She will hold the post for five years.
The delegates of 11 countries comprising WHO-SEAR region elected her at the 31st meeting of Health Ministers and 66th session of WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia.
Announcing her election, India's Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said it is an opportunity to strengthen India's commitment to perform its role in health and development with WHO as a key partner.
He said Singh is an acknowledged public health specialist and administrator with vast experience and recognition in public health and the UN system. She would be able to contribute to regional as well as global initiatives and further strengthen cooperation amongst SEAR Members States, Azad noted.
"I want to focus and improve upon the public health agenda in the region, which has changed rapidly over the last decade," Singh told PTI after being elected.
A retired Punjab-cadre IAS officer of 1975 batch, Singh has been Executive Director, Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments in WHO at Geneva and has also served the World Bank for three years earlier. She was a Member of the Cabinet of Director-General in Geneva. She was also Deputy Regional Director, WHO SEAR from 2000 to 2013.
Singh is presently the Advisor, International Health, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. She was earlier Secretary, Health in Punjab.
The South East Asian Regional Organisation (SEARO) is one of WHO's six with its headquarters in New Delhi. SEARO has 11 countries - India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Timor Leste and DPR Korea. SEARO is headed by a Regional Director who is elected by member countries.
Previous regional directors of the body include C Mani (1948-1968) from India, V T H Gunaratne (1968-1981) from Sri Lanka), U KoKo (1981-1994) from Myanmar and Uton Muchtar Rafei (1994-2004) from Indonesia.