Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia, is currently serving her second five-year term in office following her unanimous reelection to the post by the Region’s 11 Member States in September 2018. The 144th session of the WHO Executive Board formally appointed her to the position on January 26, 2019. She is an Indian national and the first woman to hold this coveted post.
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 in developing evidencebased, scientifically sound policy in complex provincial, national and international health systems, managing low-resourced health systems, leading large multi-sectoral teams and strengthening collaboration with global partners. With her strong, responsive and strategically sound leadership, she continues to support Member States deliver remarkable results across the WHO South-East Asia Region.
An Indian national, Dr Singh became the first woman to assume the office of WHO Regional Director for SouthEast Asia on February 1, 2014. In September 2018, she was unanimously nominated for a second term and formally appointed to the position in January 2019.
Dr Khetrapal Singh’s second term is defined by a simple, though powerful, maxim: ‘Sustain. Accelerate. Innovate’. The imperative each word represents complements Dr Khetrapal Singh’s original ‘One by Four’ plan and the Seven (later to become eight) Flagship Priorities that, since 2014, anchored the regionwide progress.
Prior to Dr Khetrapal Singh’s service as Regional Director of the WHO South-East Asia Region, for over two decades she was a civil servant in India as a member of the Indian Administrative Services. This included her roles as the Secretary of Health and Family Welfare and the Managing Director of the Punjab Financial Corporation and the Punjab Industrial Development Corporation.
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 DirectorGeneral’s Cabinet.
Dr Khetrapal Singh then served as WHO Deputy Regional Director for the South-East Asia Region and 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.
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 wellbeing 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 resultsbased 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 wellbeing for all.