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Why elevation of Saima Wazed, Sheikh Hasina’s daughter, as WHO regional head is good news for India

Spotlight on Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's daughter Saima Wazed (Image courtesy: Twitter)

For Bangladesh, it is a proud moment as health and autism expert Saima Wazed, who is also the daughter of Sheikh Hasina the country’s Prime Minister got nominated to take over as the next World Health Organization Regional Director for South-East Asia. Wazed will be the first person from the South Asian country to be taking over this role. The newly appointed Regional Director will assume office on 1 February 2024, the WHO said.

Wazed will take over from India’s Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the current regional director.

Why is Wazed’s appointment special for India?

Wazed, who is fluent in Hindi, spent her childhood in India. On her personal website she said that celebrating festivals such as Diwali and Holi were common for her while her mother would offer Namaz.

Wazed, during her early years, travelled across India. She attended high school and college in the southern part of India. “This is where I learned how significant diversity within one nation can coexist, because more than political borders, cultural, social, and religious practices determine who people are,” she said on her website.

Wazed had also accompanied Hasina to India in September for the G20 summit. She not only interacted with several world leaders but also presented a souvenir to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

She is under the spotlight as pundits believe that she could succeed Hasina, who has managed to steer Bangladesh’s economy into a positive direction despite several challenges.

The country is now gearing to exit the list of least developed countries (LDC) in 2026.

Syed Badrul Ahsan, author and political analyst told India Narrative that while Wazed will be busy with her new role as WHO Regional Director for the next five years, she could play a more active role in politics once her term ends.

“After her WHO term, we can expect her to take a more active role in Bangladesh’s politics,” Ahsan said, adding that Saima is extremely capable and conversant with world affairs.

“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,” she said on the website.

The voting for the WHO role took place in New Delhi. Wazed defeated Nepal’s Shambhu Acharya, who is serving as Director, Country Strategy and Support at the office of Director General of WHO in Switzerland.

Wazed won by a huge margin. Of the 11 member countries, 10 nations including India voted in favour of her.

Just ahead of the general elections in Bangladesh, the appointment will further boost the country’s image on the global front.

Also read: In Bangladesh, has Sheikh Hasina done enough to counter a desperate opposition in January elections?