Biden names India-born Ashish Jha as new White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator

Ashish Jha (IANS/File photo)

Biden names India-born Ashish Jha as new White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator

Washington, March 18, 2022

United States President Joe Biden has named Dr Ashish Jha, an India-born public health expert, as the new White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator.

Announcing the appointment, Biden said on Thursday that Jha was one of the leading public health experts in America, and a well-known figure to many Americans from his "wise and calming public presence".

"And as we enter a new moment in the pandemic – executing on my National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan and managing the ongoing risks from COVID – Dr. Jha is the perfect person for the job," he said.

The Bihar-born Jha will succeed Jeff Zients who is leaving the White House after 14 months. Unlike Jha, who is a medical doctor, Zients was a businessman and a bureaucrat. 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.

Biden noted that Zients had put his decades of management experience to work formulating and executing on a plan to build the infrastructure the US needed to deliver vaccines, tests, treatment, and masks to hundreds of millions of Americans.

Biden said almost 80% of adults in the US are now fully vaccinated; over 100 million have taken booster doses of the vaccine; virtually every school is open; and hundreds of millions of at-home tests are distributed every month.

"In addition, the US leads the global effort to fight COVID, delivering more free vaccines to other countries than every other nation on Earth," he said.

"Thanks to all the progress we’ve made, Americans are safely moving back to more normal routines, using the effective new tools we have to enable us to reduce severe COVID cases and make workplaces and schools safer. But our work in combatting COVID is far from done. We must continue the effort to provide more vaccines and boosters. We must get a vaccine approved for the youngest children. We must continue to improve how our schools and workplaces cope with COVID. We must take special care to protect the vulnerable from COVID, even as many restrictions are lifted. We need to provide tests, and treatments, and masks. We must fight the virus overseas, prepare for new waves, and new variants – all of which can be coming. And we must work with Congress to fund these vital steps, as time is running out to stay ahead of the virus," he said.

IANS adds:

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 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".

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 variants or other developments.


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