The World Health Organization (WHO) has chosen Saima Wazed, the daughter of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as its South-East Asia director. This decision comes one month after allegations of nepotism surrounded her application for the position.
Despite facing criticism for exploiting her mother’s influence, Saima Wazed, aged 49, expressed her dedication to improving the health of the South-East Asia region. She will now lead an 11-nation region, representing a quarter of the world’s population. The South-East Asia director plays a pivotal role in health policy-making, particularly during global health crises.
In September, The Lancet, a renowned medical journal, raised concerns about transparency and nepotism in Wazed’s candidacy. They noted that other nations had nominated candidates with medical doctorates or advanced degrees, unlike Wazed, who only holds an honorary doctorate from a Bangladeshi university named after her grandfather.
Saima Wazed’s application for the position listed an advanced graduate degree in school psychology from Barry University in Florida, where she is a doctoral candidate.
During a secret ballot, Wazed secured the role, outperforming Shambhu Acharya, a 65-year-old professor of global health at the University of Washington, who possesses over three decades of experience working in senior positions within the WHO.
Last month, Saima Wazed defended her application against accusations of nepotism by highlighting her appointment as Bangladesh’s chief advisor for its strategic mental health plan. She also criticized the undermining of her accomplishments due to her identity as her mother’s daughter, attributing it to sexism.
Saima Wazed has previously accompanied her mother to several high-profile diplomatic events, including the G20 summit in New Delhi, BRICS Summit in South Africa, and the United Nations General Assembly.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is the daughter of Bangladesh’s founding leader, has been in power for 15 years and has presided over rapid economic growth. However, her government has faced allegations of corruption and human rights abuses, including a violent crackdown on opposition. With general elections on the horizon within three months, many of Hasina’s supporters in Bangladesh view Saima Wazed as a potential successor.
Saima Wazed’s nomination awaits approval by the WHO’s top board in January.