WHO confirms Saima Wazed as SEARO directorWazed, daughter of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, says she will put a strong focus on mental health.
The executive board of the World Health Organisation on Wednesday confirmed Saima Wazed as the UN body’s Southeast Asia regional director. Wazed will begin her five-year term on February 1.
“There is a lot of work to be done, and I am extremely pleased to be starting this journey at this moment with all of you,” Wazed said in her acceptance speech after taking oath in Geneva. “I am excited for all that we can, and will, do together in the coming years.”
Wazed is the first person from Bangladesh to be the regional director of the WHO South-East Asia Region (SEARO) and only the second woman to hold the post. She was elected the regional director in a vote held by the regional committee for South-East Asia on November 1, 2023 in New Delhi, India.
She had defeated Nepal’s Shambhu Acharya, a senior public health official at the Office of the Director General of the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland.
Wazed is the daughter of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. After the competition between her daughter Wazed and Acharya heated up, Hasina had intensified lobbying in favour of her daughter.
Several international media outlets had criticised the Bangladeshi prime minister for using her office, position and clout to influence the election result, including with India.
Wazed had secured eight votes out of 10 votes cast against Acharya’s two.
The organisation’s regional body has 11 member countries—Nepal, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, DPR Korea, the Maldives, Timor-Leste, Indonesia and Thailand—but Myanmar didn't attend the meeting and the voting process.
In her acceptance speech, Wazed said that she would put a “strong focus on mental health… a long-neglected area.”
“It is time to turn the tide against the silent illness of mental health which impacts every aspect of the lives affected,” she said. “I will work towards ensuring relative parity between physical and mental health in our healthcare systems.”
Wazed went on, “Second, I look forward to devising and implementing specific interventions for women and children, including pregnant women. This will be created with education, empowerment, and prevention in mind. Structured with a life-course approach, this will include comprehensive well-being and health screenings, vaccination and nutrition programmes, promotion of both physical and mental well-being, and resilience.”
The other priority is the use of technology, she added. “This great enabler in our lives over the last few decades allows untold possibilities of innovation across many different spheres of public health,” she said. “The impact of the digital revolution on healthcare holds immense promise, ranging from telemedicine and remote patient monitoring to data-driven diagnostics and personalised treatment plans.”
Wazed emphasised on partnerships, collaboration and financing that are transparent, sustainable, and provide an adequate return on investment.
Universal health coverage—strengthening health systems based on a primary health care approach; monitoring health inequalities to identify and track disadvantaged populations; focusing on evidence and data to formulate equity-oriented approaches and addressing the needs of all groups to ensure all have access to quality services on an equal basis with others—are her other priorities, she said.
Wazed added she would also work towards emergency response and pandemic preparedness—which entails encouraging countries to engage the whole of society for effective pandemic preparedness and response, particularly multi-level planning for pandemic preparedness which is also linked to health system strengthening.
Wazed said she would also focus on marginalised and vulnerable groups by “prioritising their unique needs in health infrastructure planning for providing both preventive and curative services, to truly ensure that no one is left behind.”