Dr Soumya Swaminathan is the WHO’s Chief scientist. She was appointed as WHO’s first Chief Scientist in March 2019.
During the pandemic outbreak Swaminathan was actively involved in combating the outbreak and her meticulous approach and wisdom bore fruit and brought respite to many lives affected. She has been very vocal in generating awareness and also helping to make policies. She attended to the ailing world like a mother to her child.
She is a paediatrician and a globally renowned and recognised researcher on tuberculosis and HIV. She has over three decades of clinical care and research experience to her kitty. She has been a frontrunner in converting research into impactful programmes.
Dr Swaminathan was Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research from 2015 to 2017. She was also the Secretary, Health Research, Government of India. She was also the part of the committee that drafted surrogacy bill which ended commercial surrogacy in India.
During her tenure there, she kept her focus on bringing science and evidence into the health policy making, building the research capacity in Indian medical schools and forging south-south partnerships in health sciences.
From 2009 to 2011, she was the Coordinator of UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases in Geneva.
Dr. Swaminathan received her academic training from India, United Kingdom and United States of America. She has more than 350 peer-reviewed publications as well as book chapters, to her credit.
Dr. Swaminathan, an elected Foreign Fellow of the US National Academy of Medicine and also a Fellow of all three science academies of India, which is a rare feet.
These are the mandates of the Science division;
- WHO stays ahead of the curve and leverages advances in science and technology for public health and clinical care.
- To ensure that, standards and guidelines produced by WHO are scientifically updated and up to the mark, relevant and timely.
Dr. Swaminathan’s vision is to ensure that WHO is at the cutting edge of science and is able to translate new knowledge into meaningful impact on population health worldwide.
Let’s get to know her bit more….
Swaminathan was born on 2nd of May, 1959 to M. S. Swaminathan and Mina Swaminathan. Her father, M. S. Swaminathan is known as the “Father of Green Revolution of India”. Her mother, Mina Swaminathan was an educationalist. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan has two siblings, Madhura Swaminathan, a professor of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore, and Nithya Swaminathan, a Senior Lecturer in Gender Analysis in International Development at the University of East Anglia.
Swaminathan is married to Ajit Yadav, an orthopedic surgeon.
Swaminathan completed her M.B.B.S. from the Armed Forces Medical College in Pune. She further received an M.D. in paediatrics from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. She is also a DNB from National Board of Examinations. As part of her training, from 1987 to 1989, Swaminathan completed a post-doctoral medical fellowship in neonatology and paediatric pulmonology at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
- From 1989 to 1990, Swaminathan was a Research Fellow (Registrar) in the Department of Paediatric Respiratory Diseases at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.
- She then worked as a Senior Research Officer (Supernumerary Research Cadre), Cardiopulmonary Medicine Unit, as well as an Adjunct Associate Clinical Professor at the Department of Public Health and Family Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in New Jersey.
- In 1992, Swaminathan joined the National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis a/k/a Tuberculosis Research Centre, where she was Coordinator, Neglected Tropical Diseases. She later became the director of the National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis.
- From 2009 to 2011, Swaminathan was Coordinator of the UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases in Geneva.
- Until 2013, she was Director, National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis (NIRT) in Chennai.
- From August 2015 to November 2017, Swaminathan was Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Secretary of the Department of Health Research (Ministry of Health & Family Welfare) for the Government of India.
Her career with World Health Organisation
- From October 2017 to March 2019, Swaminathan was Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organization.
- In March 2019, Swaminathan became Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization, where she participated in regular twice weekly press briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic. She has urged countries to conduct whole genome sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus more frequently and to upload sequences to the GISAID project.
- In the preparations for the Global Health Summit hosted by the European Commission and the G20 in May 2021, Swaminathan was a member of the event’s High Level Scientific Panel.
Awards and Recognitions
- 1999: XI National Paediatric Pulmonary Conference, Dr. Keya Lahiri Gold Medal for best paper
- 2008: Indian Council of Medical Research, Kshanika Oration Award
- 2009: International Union against TB and Lung Diseases, Vice-Chair, HIV section
- 2011: Indian Academy of Pediatrics, Fellow
- 2011: Indian Association of Applied Microbiologists, Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2012: Tamil Nadu Science and Technology Award
- 2012: National Academy of Sciences, India, Fellow
- 2013: Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, Fellow,
- 2016: NIPER, ASTRAZENECA research endowment award
- Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, Member of the Board
- Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Non-Voting Member of the Board
- Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP), Non-Voting Member of the Board of Directors
- Global Coalition Against TB, Member of the Expert Group
- WomenLift Health, Member of the Global Advisory Board
Swaminathan’s areas of interest are paediatric and adult tuberculosis (TB), epidemiology and pathogenesis, and the role of nutrition in HIV-associated TB.
While at the National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis in Chennai, Swaminathan started a multi-disciplinary group of clinical, laboratory and behavioural scientists studying various aspects of TB and TB/HIV. Swaminathan along with her colleagues were among the first to scale up the use of molecular diagnostics for TB surveillance and care, to undertake large field trials of community-randomised strategies to deliver TB treatment to underserved populations. She was part of the TB Zero City Project which aimed to create “Islands of elimination” working with local governments, institutions and grassroots associations.
In 2021, Swanminathan was also appointed to the Pandemic Preparedness Partnership (PPP), an expert group chaired by Patrick Vallance to advise the G7 presidency held by the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.