Who is Dr. Soumya Swaminathan? Meet The First Indian Chief Scientist of WHO

who is Dr Soumya Swaminathan

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan has once again grabbed headlines for raising concerns over the COVID-19 vaccine’s efficacy against the South African variant of the coronavirus. The Indian clinical scientist who became the chief scientist of the World Health Organisation in 2019 has been a leading figure in fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic. Her vast experience in the field of health sciences has helped her race against her father M. S. Swaminathan’s legacy of revolutionising Indian agriculture.


It was between 1989-1990 that Swaminathan served as a Research Fellow in the Department of Paediatric Respiratory Diseases at the University of Leicester, United Kingdom. She possesses over 30 years of experience in fields such as clinical research, healthcare, etc. Swaminathan has also gained widespread acclaim for her work on tuberculosis which led her to become the Director of National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis in 2013.  

Besides this, she has been pivotal in serving as a coordinator for several UN and world agencies such as the UNICEF, UNDP, World Bank, WHO. Swaminathan also headed the WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases in Geneva.

Her reputation as a leading scientist helped her to become the Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organization between October 2017 to March 2019. She was then promoted to the post of Chief Scientist of the WHO in March 2019. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan has been responsible for giving regular updates and briefings about the COVID-19 situation around the world.

Early Life And Education

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan was born in Kumbakonam, Kerala to M. S. Swaminathan, the “Father of India’s Green Revolution” and Indian Educationalist Mina Swaminathan. She completed her M.B.B.S degree from Armed Forces Medical College in Pune. She then went in to acquire an M.D in paediatrics from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi. Between 1987 to 1989, she completed her post-doctoral fellowship in neonatology and pediatric pulmonology at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Awards And Recognitions

The scientist has a vision to combine the best elements from science, technology and innovation to improvise the healthcare system. As a researcher in Tuberculosis, she and her team were responsible for initiating a TB free project in Chennai. They had to negotiate with the government, corporation organisations and administrators to test, interpret and initiate treatment against the disease. She has played an important role in documenting and conducting pharmacokinetic research on testing Anti-TB drugs on both adults and children. Her contributions have won numerous accolades.

Swaminathan was recently awarded the prestigious  Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s special award for her impeccable role as a COVID-19 advisor in the state. “Maintain a six feet social distance, do not go out without wearing masks and be careful while venturing out”, she said while speaking to the reporters. In 2016, she bagged the NIPER, ASTRAZENECA research endowment award and before that, in 2013 she received an award from the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore. She is also the recepient of awards from the National Academy of Sciences as well as the Indian Academy of Pediatrics.

Image credit: Business Today

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