Top Figures in Covid-19 Fight Leaving in WHO Shake-up

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Two of the World Health Organization’s most senior figures in the fight against Covid-19 are resigning next week, according to a letter from the WHO chief seen by AFP on Tuesday.

Indian pediatrician and clinician Soumya Swaminathan steps down as WHO chief scientist, while Brazil’s Mariangela Simao steps down as deputy director-general of the UN health agency for access to medicines and commodities health.

The couple were among key WHO officials leading global efforts to coordinate the response to the pandemic since Covid-19 was first detected in China in late 2019.

They have been part of the WHO’s public team in the search for vaccines, tests and treatments to fight the pandemic.

The departures were announced in a letter to colleagues written by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as part of a reshuffle of his senior team after he was re-elected to a second five-year term in May.

“I would like to express my deep gratitude and respect to the members of my leadership team whose appointments at WHO expire on November 30,” Tedros said in the letter.

“These distinguished individuals have my deepest gratitude for their commitment and contribution to the organization over the past five years.”

Swaminathan and his team have been working to track and communicate the ever-changing science around Covid-19.

Simao often took the initiative to explain vaccine research and the WHO approval process for Covid jabs.

Former French health minister Agnès Buzyn, Tedros’ multilateral affairs envoy, is also heading outward; and former UK government minister Jane Ellison, who is stepping down as executive director of external affairs and governance.

“The team…helped lead the WHO through a global pandemic that has ravaged the health and well-being of people around the world and had a profound and continuing impact on global public health,” Tedros said.

“Through their leadership and expertise, these outgoing members of the management team have made a truly positive difference, and their legacy is a stronger and more agile, equitable and resilient WHO.”

No announcements have yet been made regarding new appointments.

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