On 26 January 2019 the 144th Session of the WHO Executive Board approved the appointment of Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh as the first woman Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia for a second five-year term. This is a really big news for India and Indians worldwide as Dr Khetrapal Singh is the first Indian as well as the first woman to hold the post.
Prior to taking over as Regional Director of the WHO South-East Asia Region, Dr Poonam Khetrapal an IAS officer served for over two decades as a Joint-Secretary and Secretary Health in Punjab, which has a population of 27 million and a health budget of USD 350 million.
In 1987 she moved to the Health, Population and Nutrition Department of The World Bank. In 1998 she joined WHO headquarters as Executive Director, Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments Cluster, and became a member of the Director-General’s Cabinet.
Dr Khetrapal Singh then served as WHO Deputy Regional Director for the South-East Asia Region from 2000 to 2013. In February 2013 she joined the Government of India’s Ministry of Health & Family Welfare as Advisor for International Health, where her principal task was to strengthen global health outcomes and provide guidance to the Ministry to take forward the international health agenda.
Dr Khetrapal Singh has devoted more than three decades to strengthening public health as a leader and manager at national and international levels. She has vast experience developing evidence-based, scientifically sound policy in complex state, national and international health systems due to her work managing low-resourced health systems, leading large multi-sectoral teams and collaborating with global partners and public health leaders.
By building a strong and responsive WHO Regional Office, as per Dr Khetrapal Singh’s original vision, Member States are in a compelling position to rapidly advance the health and well-being of their people. This is of utmost importance as the Region continues to pursue its own Flagship Priorities, the ‘triple billion’ targets outlined in the 13th General Programme of Work, and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. It is also vital to tackling the many-faceted challenges that are becoming increasingly prominent, from climate change to antimicrobial resistance.
Dr Khetrapal Singh’s results-based focus, her commitment to supporting Member States, and her dedication to driving real change in the lives of the most vulnerable will continue to serve the Region well. Though the Region faces a range of challenges and is pursuing a series of ambitious targets, Dr Khetrapal Singh’s strong, responsive and strategically sound leadership is best-placed to sustain the Region’s remarkable achievements, accelerate progress, and harness the full power of innovation in the Region’s ongoing quest to advance health and well-being for all.
Even her husband Alwyn Didar Singh, also a former IAS officer after retirement as Secretary to Government of India in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, Secretary National Highways Authority of India, and Department of Road Transport and Highways worked as Secretary-General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry.