Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Soumya Swaminathan has been named Chief Scientist of the organisation. As Deputy Director-General Programmes (DDP), she was one of the three DDGs assisting WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Swaminathan confirmed the news saying, “Yes. I am now Chief Scientist, a newly created position and division.” The new position was specially created for Swaminathan.
In a statement, Ghebreyesus said, “What will be announced today will be the result of your ideas. For the past 18 months, they (WHO officials) have been relentless in conducting a root-and-branch examination of what we do, why we do it, and how we can do it better.” The new division is termed the fifth pillar that will strengthen the WHO's core scientific work, ensure quality and consistency of norms and standards. W statement from WHO said, “WHO's new corporate structure is based on four pillars which will be mirrored throughout the organisation.”
The wing will be responsible for WHO's critical health security responsibilities, both in responding to health crises and helping countries prepare for them. The External Relations and Governance Pillar will centralise and harmonise WHO's work on resource mobilisation and communications. Regional Director for Africa, Tshidi Moeti, said, “Science is changing at a rapid pace. WHO must not just keep up, but we must be ahead of the curve, setting the agenda, driving research and innovation, and ensuring it works for people. The new division will ensure WHO anticipates and stays on top of the latest scientific developments.”
They added, “For example, the development of gene editing technologies has raised important scientific, ethical, social and legal questions. To address that, we recently established an expert panel on gene editing, bringing together the best minds from across the globe. It will help us define the boundaries between the potential opportunities and harms of this frontier technology.” Another key area of the Chief Scientist’s work will be to keep WHO ahead of the curve by overseeing our work on digital health and innovation.
Takeshi Kasai, Regional Director for Western Pacific, said, “To spearhead our digital work, WHO is creating a new Department of Digital Health, in the Division of the Chief Scientist. This department will enhance our role in assessing digital technologies, and support countries to make decisions about how to prioritise, integrate and regulate them.”