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Concerns about Nepotism Arise in Bangladesh Due to WHO Regional Election
Science & Health

Concerns about Nepotism Arise in Bangladesh Due to WHO Regional Election

The upcoming election to select the next leader of the South-East Asia Regional Office (SEARO) for the World Health Organization has sparked controversy, as this individual will have a significant impact on the well-being of billions of individuals.

Sheikh Hasina’s daughter, Saima Wazed, is a candidate for the SEARO position, along with one other person. Wazed’s nomination has caused controversy, as some health experts view it as an example of nepotism and have raised concerns about the election process for high-level positions at the U.N. health organization.

According to the WHO website, the ideal candidate for the SEARO position must possess a strong background in both technical and public health, as well as significant experience in the field of global health. Additionally, the candidate should demonstrate competency in organizational management and have a proven track record of public health leadership.

The next leader of SEARO will be chosen through a private vote by the 11 member nations of the region, including Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. The voting is planned to occur at a WHO regional committee meeting in New Delhi from October 30th to November 2nd.

Nations in the area put forth nominees for the role of head of the regional branch of the World Health Organization.

The government of Bangladesh nominated Wazed.

Apart from Wazed, a champion for mental health, there is only one other proposed candidate: Shambhu Acharya, a public health specialist and high-ranking member of the World Health Organization who was nominated by Nepal.

There has been concern over the difference in qualifications between the candidates.

Wazed holds a graduate degree in clinical psychology from Barry University, located in Florida. For almost ten years, she has served as an advisor to the Director General of the World Health Organization, focusing on mental health and autism concerns.

Acharya has been a member of the World Health Organization for nearly three decades. He has held various high-level roles within the U.N. organization and holds a doctorate in public health, health policy, and financing from the University of North Carolina.

Sixteen health professionals in Nepal have released a statement declaring that Acharya is the more suitable candidate for the SEARO director role, out of the two candidates competing for the position.

The statement declared that [Acharya] has a strong background in public health and a wealth of leadership experience in addressing global health concerns.

He has a deep understanding of the health and medical issues in our area, as he has spent 30 years improving responses at local, national, regional, and global levels. This includes his work in Nepal, Bangladesh, and India, as well as his role at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

As of now, there has been no public endorsement of Wazed by public health professionals in Bangladesh.

Currently, there is a significant movement against Hasina in Bangladesh, as the upcoming general election is expected to take place in January. The United States is closely observing the election, and there is a belief that the ruling party, Awami League, will not be able to manipulate the results and lose their power. As a result, many groups that were previously known to be pro-Awami League are now not showing support for Hasina, her party, or her family members.

Bangladesh’s foreign minister, AK Abdul Momen, recently expressed his support for Wazed’s candidacy.

During an interview with The Hindu, the minister insisted that Nepal remove their candidate from the competition for the WHO-SEARO position.

Momen questioned why, despite [Nepal’s candidate] having 30 years of experience and holding a position of decision-making in the WHO, the overall health indices in the South East Asian region have not seen improvement. He also suggested that Acharya, who is of South Asian origin, should withdraw from the competition for the WHO-SEARO post.

Wazed, who has served in advisory roles for various mental health organizations within the Bangladesh government, dismissed allegations that her nomination was based on nepotism due to her mother being the prime minister. She stated that those who criticized her nomination were disregarding her qualifications and accomplishments in the field of mental health.

In a recent opinion piece for Inter Press Service, Wazed pointed out that his role as an advisor to WHO’s Director-General on Mental Health & Autism and his nearly decade-long membership on the WHO’s Expert Advisory Panel on mental health have been overlooked.

She stated that they fail to acknowledge my role as the chief adviser for Bangladesh’s National Mental Health Strategic Plan and as a technical expert for the 2018 National Mental Health Act in Bangladesh.

The nomination of Wazed by Bangladesh has been called into question by various activists and professionals in the field of public health.

Bishow Parajuli, former U.N. resident coordinator and U.N. Development Program representative in Myanmar and Zimbabwe, said that Wazed has limited experience and qualifications to assume such a leadership position.

According to comments sent via email, the selection of Ms. Wazed and her utilization of the Prime Minister’s office to communicate with international leaders in a nation with a large number of skilled and capable healthcare workers is indicative of nepotism and the impact of her mother’s role in the decision-making process. The selection should be based solely on qualifications and merit.

Pinaki Bhattacharya, a social activist and physician from Bangladesh currently based in Paris, stated that Wazed lacks the necessary qualifications for the position at WHO-SEARO.

He informed VOA that Hasina and her daughter are not knowledgeable of the fact that being a descendant of a powerful figure may provide political benefits, but becoming a professional leader in international health demands proper education, skills, and talent.

In the past few weeks, Wazed has been by the side of her mother, Sheikh Hasina, as she participated in important diplomatic events such as the U.N. General Assembly in New York and the G20 summit in New Delhi. Wazed joined Prime Minister Hasina for meetings with U.S. President Joe Biden, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Wazed stated that she has become accustomed to being subjected to distinct professional expectations compared to men. She also expressed her frustration with being solely labeled as “her mother’s daughter,” which she views as a clear example of sexism.

Wazed has not replied to a VOA email asking for a direct response regarding the issue of nepotism.

Kent Buse, the head of the Global Healthier Societies Program at The George Institute for Global Health at Imperial College London, expressed to VOA that there is a need for significant changes in how directors are chosen in all regions of the WHO. This is necessary to maintain public trust in the organization’s selection process based on merit.

This pertains to increasing transparency and providing better monitoring of the election procedures. This should encompass closer examination of the candidate’s adherence to the current codes of conduct that govern the campaign processes.