Meet Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO became India’s pride

Dr Swaminathan was honoured with the highest post ever held by an Indian in World Health Organization in October

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When Dr Soumya Swaminathan hit the headlines after being chosen as deputy director general of World Health Organization (WHO), it was a matter of pride of not just her, but for every Indian. She is the first Indian to hold a post as prestigious as this in the renowned international organisation.

If you thought this is her only post, then read on. The 58-year-old is also the secretary of Department of Health Research (DHR), Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, and Director General – Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). She is a member of the UN Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance and UNAIDS Expert Panel. She was the Chair, HIV section of the International Union Against TB and Lung Diseases from 2009-11.

A fellow of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) in Delhi, Indian Academy of Sciences (IASc) in Bengaluru, National Academy of Sciences India (NASI) in Allahabad and National Academy of Medical Sciences (NAMS) in Delhi, Dr Swaminathan has over 270 publications in national and international journals to her credit.

Talk to her about her background, Dr Swaminathan happily lets you into her life. “I completed my MBBS from the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune, and MD in Paediatrics from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi,” she said. She is the daughter of MS Swaminathan, the acclaimed Indian geneticist and father of green revolution.

With an experience of being a paediatrician for over thirty years and a clinical scientist with extensive experience in health research and administration, she was sure to leave no stone unturned to become the best.

Dr Swaminathan is known for her efforts in DHR that largely focuses on modern health technologies to improve the health of the people of India through innovations – in diagnostics, treatment and vaccines. She also heads ICMRs efforts to engender an environment that nurtures biomedical research in the country through a twin-track approach of supporting both intramural and extramural research initiatives.

She has a Fellowship in Neonatology and Paediatric Pulmonology from the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, University of Southern California in the US; and a Research Fellowship from the Department of Paediatric Respiratory Diseases, University of Leicester in the UK.

Her research interests include paediatric and adult tuberculosis, epidemiology and pathogenesis, the role of nutrition and HIV-associated TB. She has also worked at TDR, a global programme for research on diseases of poverty.