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Biden appoints India-born health expert as top official for Covid response

New York, March 18 (IANS) A Bihar-born global health expert has been appointed by US President Joe Biden to the White House position of overseeing the nation’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I am excited to name Dr Ashish Jha as the new White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator”, Biden said on Thursday announcing the appointment.

“Dr Jha is one of the leading public health experts in America, and a well-known figure to many Americans from his wise and calming public presence.”

Jha, who is the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, is one of the most popular experts that the media reaches out to for explaining the Covid pandemic and the efforts to control it.

“For all the progress we’ve made in this pandemic (and there is a lot). We still have important work to do to protect Americans’ lives and well being. So when @POTUS asked me to serve, I was honoured to have the opportunity,” Jha said in a tweet.

He will be joining Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, National Drug Control Policy Director Rahul Gupta, and Center for Medicare Director Meena Seshamani at the higher echelons of US health care system.

Jha succeeds Jeff Zients, who is leaving the White House after 14 months during which two variants, Delta and Omicron, fuelled a surge in Covid cases that the US struggled to contain.

Zients leaves office with 65 per cent of Americans having received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine and nearly 77 per cent have been fully vaccinated with the seven-day average of infections plummeting from 806,851 in mid-January to 30,570 in mid-March.

Jha was born in Pursaulia in Bihar in 1970 to parents who were educators.

The family moved to Canada in 1979 and to the US in 1983.

He did his BA in economics at Columbia University and switching to medicine, he got his MD and master’s in public health from Harvard University.

He came to Brown from Harvard, where he was the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute and the dean for Global Strategy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

He had also served as the co-chair of the Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola, which examined the failure of the international community’s response to the disease.

Even while he was heading the Brown University’s School of Public Health, he continued to practice medicine at a hospital for ex-military members.

During the Covid pandemic, he made frequent appearances on TV, wrote op-eds for leading newspapers and was often quoted by reporters.

The medical news website, STAT, called him “network TV’s everyman expert on Covid” with the qualities of a “telegenic phenom” and a “great communicator”.

Zients was a businessman and a bureaucrat, unlike Jha who is a doctor.

He is a former CEO of an investment company and a member of Facebook’s board of directors.

Before that, he had served as a special assistant to former President Barack Obama and as the director of the National Economic Council.

The changeover to a doctor marks an inflexion point in the pandemic where the logistics of mass vaccination and testing are in place and the future task is to monitor and prepare for new variations or other developments.

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