By: Anupama Tantri and Deepanjali Jain
The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (GN) would like to congratulate Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh on her appointment as the new World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for South-East Asia.
Dr. Khetrapal Singh will oversee a regional office whose eleven member states account for 54 percent of the world’s population that requires preventative treatment for NTDs.
The WHO South East Asia Regional Office (SEARO) plays a leading role in advancing NTD control and elimination efforts across this region. In 2012, in partnership with member countries, SEARO released the Regional Strategic Framework for Elimination of Kala Azar, a goal it aims to achieve by 2015.
In addition to region level advocacy and planning, SEARO’s leadership is helping its member states achieve key milestones in the path towards the control and elimination of NTDs. In 2013, the 90 percent deworming coverage among both preschool and school-age children, is now focused on scaling up its LF elimination program. East Timor, the region’s newest member, developed a national integrated plan for the control of NTDs in 2013, and is preparing to launch its national program this year. India, which accounts for 35 percent of the global burden for NTDs, currently manages the largest LF elimination program in the world, reaching more than 300 million people annually. Indonesia is also making great strides in strengthening its LF elimination program and is committed to eliminating schistosomiasis.
However, these success stories will not be repeated throughout South East Asia unless more resources are dedicated to the scaling-up of existing integrated NTD control programs. For example, India and Indonesia are only reaching a fraction of the 60 million children, respectively, in need of deworming. Trachoma elimination efforts are still weak and more resources are needed to better understand the current burden and impact of existing programs.
With a distinguished career and more than 30 years of experience in the health sector, Dr. Khetrapal Singh will be an invaluable asset to the region and is well positioned to lead the region towards meeting NTD control and elimination goals. Prior to her first appointment with the WHO, Dr. Khetrapal Singh was a member of the Indian Administrative Service and served as the Secretary of Health, Family and Medical Welfare with the Government of Punjab. In her last post as Deputy Regional Director of SEARO, Dr. Khetrapal Singh was responsible for resource mobilization in the region, and for the creation of partnerships with public, private and non-profit organizations. Her skills and knowledge of the region have already greatly contributed to NTD control and elimination successes in South East Asia.
We are confident that under Dr. Khetrapal Singh’s leadership SEARO will continue the push to end the burden of NTDs and the South East Asia region will emerge as a global leader for the implementation of sustainable and effective NTD control and elimination programs.