Bangabandhu’s granddaughter Saima Wazed makes us extremely proud
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s granddaughter Saima Wazed has assumed charge as Regional Director for World Health Organization South-East Asia Region. She is the first from Bangladesh and the second woman to hold this office. She was nominated to lead the Region by Member countries of WHO South-East Asia at the Regional Committee session on 1 November 2023 in New Delhi and appointed by the WHO Executive Board on 23 January 2024 in Geneva, Switzerland. Saima Wazed will be directing international health work in 11 countries with over two billion people.
According to WHO, outlining her vision, the Regional Director Saima Wazed said her goal is to strengthen Members States and WHO to address health gaps in the context of current realities and challenges; enable Member States to devise and implement innovative local solutions for equitable and resilient health system; and importantly, empower disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.
At her acceptance speech at the Executive Board in Geneva, Saima Wazed said her topmost priorities include a strong focus on mental health and well-being, a long-neglected area; promoting health equity including through devising and implementing specific interventions for women and children with a structured life-course approach; and harnessing technology for innovations across the different spheres of public health.
Promoting universal health coverage with a focus on strengthening health systems based on a primary health care approach; emergency response and pandemic preparedness to encourage countries have a whole-of-society and multi-level pandemic preparedness planning linked to health system strengthening; fostering and enhancing collaboration and partnerships at the regional and multi-sectoral level to address all determinants of health; and monitoring and progress reporting to inform and improve strategies and improve decision-making with the focus on vulnerable population such as the indigenous peoples, refugees and migrant populations displaced by conflict, economic and environmental crisis, are among the Regional Director’s priorities.
She is also prioritizing health sector resilience to climate and environmental change and a focused approach to the unique needs of the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in health infrastructure planning, to truly leave no one behind.
Prior to taking up this role, Saima Wazed served as advisor to the WHO Director-General on mental health and autism and was a member of WHO’s Expert Advisory Panel on Mental Health. She was Chief Advisor for the National Mental Health Strategic Plan for the Government of Bangladesh, Chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, and Focal Person for disability for the Ministry of Disaster Management & Relief in Bangladesh. She was Commissioner of Chatham House’s Commission for Universal Health, Associate Fellow in the Global Health Program at Chatham House, Thematic Ambassador for ‘Vulnerability’ of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, and Chairperson of the Shuchona Foundation in Bangladesh.
The member states voted to nominate Saima Wazed to the post during a meeting at the 76th session of the WHO Regional Committee for the South-East Asia Region on January 1, 2024. Later, her nomination was approved during the 154 session of the WHO Executive Board held on January 22-27 in Geneva, Switzerland, according to WHO sources.
Saima Wazed replaced Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the outgoing RD of South-East Asia Region of WHO.
Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), India, Indonesia, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste took part in the voting in New Delhi.
Saima Wazed spearheaded the campaign for autism awareness in Bangladesh at a time when parents would hide their children with this neurodevelopmental disorder due to the social stigma attached to the developmental disability.
She has a Bachelor degree from Barry University in Florida, USA, and holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology. She is a candidate for a doctorate in Organizational Leadership from the same university.
Commenting on Saima Wazed, eminent journalist Syed Badrul Ahsan told India Narrative, “After her WHO term, we can expect her to take a more active role in Bangladesh’s politics. Saima is extremely capable and conversant with world affairs”.
On her website, Saima Wazed said, “I come from a well-known political family that most are familiar with and incorrectly assume that I have always lived a life of privilege. Despite being born in Bangladesh as the granddaughter of the Father of the Nation, my earliest memories were that of growing up in India as a refugee”.