On Thursday, the World Health Organisation’s independent panel for pandemic preparedness and response appointed former health secretary Preeti Sudan as one of its 11 panellists from across the world. The decision by the panel’s two heads, former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke and former Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, received a rather muted response in India.
HT learns that India recommended former foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale for this post.
In a meeting of the Chairs earlier this week, Helen Clarke is believed to have conveyed that Sudan’s experience as the head of the government ministry that led India’s response to the pandemic makes her much more suited for the job.
Member states such as India were invited to nominate their candidates but the chairs had the freedom to pick their own candidate as they did with Sudan.
In its press release dated September 3, the panel said that while it reviewed more than 120 people, it “made the final appointments based on skills (including expertise in outbreak response, managing national health systems, leadership in youth and community engagement, socio-economic analytical capabilities), knowledge about the international system including WHO and experience from similar international processes.’’
Significantly, the release added , “All panel members will serve in their individual capacity and will not represent either their government nor specific organisational interests.’’ The prestigious panel also has former UK foreign secretary David Milliband as a member. Their first meeting is on September 17 and in the report expected by May 2021, the panel is expected to address how the pandemic emerged and why countries were caught off guard.
A senior government official says that Gokhale’s name was even cleared by the Prime Minister’s Office for several reasons. One of them is that Gokhale has served as ambassador to China, and, as foreign secretary, was an “expert on multi-lateral issues’’. India is among 62 nations that have asked for a probe into the origins of the Corona virus. US President Donald Trump has led the charge accusing China, where the outbreak started, of concealing information about the virus.
“I don’t know anything about this,’’ said Preeti Sudan on Saturday, about the background of her appointment. “I didn’t apply for this position.’’ Sudan’s appointment was pushed by Clarke who worked with the Indian officer on the board of The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. “I will be working from New Delhi in an endeavour that is for international good,” Sudan added. HT reached out to Gokhale, but there was no response till the time of going to press.
The official cited above, who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed that Clark spoke with health minister Harsh Vardhan before making the appointment and explained the reason for vetoing India’s choice. Vardhan was appointed chairman of WHO Executive Board in May this year.
HT reached out to the Prime Minister’s office and Harsh Vardhan but didn’t receive any response. A spokesperson for WHO said: “The selection of the members of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPR) was done by the co-chairs, former President of Liberia, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Right Honourable Helen Clark. This decision was not taken by the World Health Organization. ”