Bangabandhu’s granddaughter Saima Wazed takes Lead at WHO Southeast Asia


In a momentous announcement, the World Health Organization’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, extended heartfelt congratulations to Bangabandhu’s granddaughter Saima Wazed, a renowned activist for autism, on her recent appointment as the Regional Director for the South-East Asia Regional Office (WHOSEARO). The announcement was met with enthusiasm, as Saima Wazed, also known as Putul, steps into a significant role overseeing the health systems of 11 countries, home to nearly two billion people.

Expressing confidence in Saima Wazed’s capabilities, WHO Director General-Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus conveyed his trust in her ability to guide the diverse region through a myriad of health challenges. In a post from his official handle, he emphasized the critical nature of Saima Wazed’s role and reassured her that she is not alone, backed by a dedicated and talented team at the Regional Office. Dr. Tedros affirmed his full support and trust, extending a collaborative hand for the journey ahead.

In response to her appointment, Saima Wazed took to her social media “X” handle to express her gratitude and commitment to the new role. Acknowledging the responsibility with humility, she promised to work with a spirit of cooperation and partnership to implement her vision for the region. Wazed conveyed her thanks to the member states for the trust placed in her, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and seeking guidance, advice, and partnership from her colleagues.

“I would like to thank the Member States for the trust they have placed in me, and I thank you in this room for reaffirming their voice and their choice. There is a lot of work to be done, and I am extremely pleased to be starting this journey at this moment, in our headquarters, with all of you. In the coming months, I will call upon your guidance, your advice, your partnership & your friendship. I am excited for all that we can, and will, do together in the years ahead. On behalf of South East Asia, I thank you,” she said in her statement.

During the program, Saima Wazed delivered a speech where she expressed her thanks to Bangladesh for nominating her and the member countries for electing her to this important position. She recognized the trust in her leadership and concluded her remarks by expressing gratitude to her mother, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, for teaching her how to lead with compassion and care, especially for the disenfranchised and needy. Saima Wazed expressed her commitment to applying these life lessons in leading the South-East Asia region.

Saima Wazed’s journey to this pivotal role has been marked by her unwavering commitment to autism advocacy and her significant contributions to global health initiatives. Born on December 9, 1972, to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, and nuclear scientist M. A. Wazed Miah, she has emerged as a leading figure in the field of autism awareness.

A licensed school psychologist, Saima Wazed graduated from Barry University and has been actively involved in raising awareness about autism. Her efforts culminated in organizing the first South Asian conference on Autism in 2011 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Beyond her advocacy work, she serves as the chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on Autism and Neurodevelopment disorders.

Saima Wazed’s influence extends to the global stage, as she campaigned for the “Comprehensive and Coordinated Efforts for the Management of Autism Spectrum Disorders” resolution at the World Health Assembly. The resolution, adopted with her spearheading efforts, received praise from Autism Speaks for fostering a truly global push for support.

Her global engagement includes a four-year stint as a global autism advocate on the World Health Organization’s 25-member Expert Advisory Panel on mental health, starting in 2014. In November 2016, she was elected as the chairperson of the International Jury Board meeting of UNESCO for Digital Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, showcasing her commitment to inclusive digital initiatives.

In April 2017, Saima Wazed was designated as the WHO Champion for Autism in the South-East Asia Region, and in July of the same year, she became the Goodwill Ambassador of the World Health Organization for autism in the South-East Asia Region. These roles underscore her dedication to advancing the understanding and support for individuals with autism on an international scale.

Since 2022, Saima Wazed has been an integral member of the Commission for Universal Health convened by Chatham House. Co-chaired by Helen Clark and Jakaya Kikwete, the commission focuses on shaping global health policies and practices, reflecting her continued commitment to broader health issues.

Her remarkable contributions have not gone unnoticed, as evidenced by the accolades she has received over the years. In 2016, Saima Wazed was conferred with the World Health Organization’s South-East Asia Region Award for Excellence in Public Health. The following year, she received the International Champion Award for her outstanding contribution to the field of autism. Her alma mater, Barry University, also recognized her activism with a distinguished alumni award.

As Saima Wazed embarks on her new role as the Regional Director for WHO’s South-East Asia Regional Office, she brings with her a wealth of experience and a track record of impactful advocacy. The challenges ahead are undoubtedly vast and diverse, but with Saima Wazed’s leadership, supported by a dedicated team, the region looks set to address its health challenges with renewed vigor. Her vision, humility, and commitment to collaboration promise to make a lasting impact on the health and well-being of the nearly two billion people under her purview. The global health community eagerly anticipates the positive changes that will unfold under her guidance in the years ahead.



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