President Biden names Dr. Ashish Jha as national coordinator of COVID-19 response

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Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Photo: courtesy Brown University

President Joe Biden announced March 17, 2022, he is appointing Indian-American physician Ashish Jha as the “perfect person” to lead the White House Covid national initiative. Jeff Zients, who currently leads the effort is stepping down.

“To lead this effort, I am excited to name Dr. Ashish Jha as the new White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator. 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. 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,” Biden said in a statement which also announced the departure of Zients.

“I appreciate both Jeff and Dr. Jha for working closely to ensure a smooth transition, and I look forward to continued progress in the months ahead,” the President said.

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According to Brown University, where Dr. Jha is the Dean of the School of Public Health, he will be taking a short-term leave for the temporary special assignment.

A globally recognized expert on infectious diseases, Jha was born in Pursaulia, Bihar in 1970. He went to Canada when he was 9, and then to the U.S. in 1983. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Columbia University and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School.

In a series of tweets, Jha noted, “On a personal note – For a poor immigrant kid who left India not speaking a word of English And found in America a nation willing to embrace me as one of her own I am deeply honored for this chance to serve this country I love And grateful to a President for the opportunity.”

Always a cautious voice on numerous media outlets where he was interviewed over the last two years, Jha Tweeted after his White House appointment, “So, as they say… Some news – 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 honored to have the opportunity.”

Jha also warned, “We are not done We are very likely to see more surges of infections We may see more variants We can’t predict everything with certainty But we have to prepare to protect the American people whatever Mother Nature throws at us.”

A globally recognized expert on pandemic preparedness and response as well as on health policy research and practice. Dr. Jha has taken up the new position at the request of President Biden, a press release from Brown University noted.

In succeeding Zients, Jha will lead the response of the entire U.S. government to the COVID-19 pandemic, while also advancing the nation’s global health priorities and policies.

Dr. Ashish K. Jha poses for a photo at Brown University. Photo: courtesy Brown University

Brown University President Christina H. Paxson said Jha’s appointment brings a top scholar and highly regarded Brown academic leader to White House service, offering a prominent illustration of the ways in which the University can make a positive impact on domestic and global issues of significant consequence.

“Ashish will bring to President Biden and our nation what he has brought — and will bring back — to Brown: an unrivaled commitment to improving public health equitably, effectively, creatively, with heart and a commitment to science,” Paxson said.

In addition to his role as dean and public health scholar, Jha is a practicing physician. He was appointed to lead Brown’s School of Public Health in February 2020, weeks before COVID-19 arrived in full force in the U.S., and he began as dean in September 2020.

Over the past year, Jha has participated in Congressional hearings on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, among others. Recently, he advised the White House on the President’s national COVID-19 preparedness plan.

Jha said he was honored to accept President Biden’s invitation to serve and continue work he was already engaged in building at Brown through the pandemic – to improve public understanding and information, and inform policy at every level of government here and around the globe.

According to Brown, since his start as dean, Jha has worked to strengthen and grow a public health school deeply engaged with solving the world’s most challenging health problems.

Dr. Megan Ranney, academic dean of the School of Public Health and another national leader for analysis and advice on the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jha will head to the White House having established an outstanding team of academic and administrative leaders, a burgeoning set of new academic initiatives, and a commitment to student support that will persist as he steps away temporarily for the short-term assignment.

About Dr. Ashish K. Jha

Before joining Brown in September 2020, Jha was leading the Harvard Global Health Institute and teaching at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. A general internist who practiced previously with the West Roxbury V.A. in Massachusetts, he had continued his practice at the Providence V.A. Medical Center.

Jha has led groundbreaking research around Ebola and is now on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response, leading national and international analysis of key issues and advising state and federal policy makers.

After graduating from Columbia University and getting his MD from Harvard, Jha trained in internal medicine at the University of California in San Francisco. He completed his general medicine fellowship at Brigham & Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School and received his master of public health in 2004 from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

With sponsored funding from sources such as the National Institutes of Health, the Gates Foundation, the Climate Change Solutions Fund and the Commonwealth Fund, Jha’s research focuses on improving the quality of health care systems with a specialized focus on how national policies impact care.

He has led some of the seminal work comparing the performance of the U.S. health system to those of other high-income countries to better understand why the U.S. spends more but often achieves less in population health, the Brown press release noted.

Jha co-chaired an international commission that examined the global response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 and what could be done to strengthen the approach to pandemic preparedness and response. He has written extensively on the importance of international agencies like the World Health Organization and how they can be made more effective in infectious disease outbreaks like Ebola, Zika and now COVID-19.

He has published more than 200 empirical papers and writes regularly about ways to improve health care systems, both in the U.S. and globally.

In addition to his academic appointments at Brown and Harvard, he has served in a number of roles at the federal level, including as special assistant to the secretary in the Department of Veterans Affairs from 2009 to 2013.

Jha was elected as a member of the National Academy of Medicine in 2013.

“So we have some work to do my friends As much as I wish otherwise, the pandemic is not over So let’s keep our eye on the ball Prepare for surges and variants Work to ensure that schools, work, and other places of gathering remain safe Vaccinate the world,” Jha tweeted.

And looking to the future, he said, “If we (c)an do all of that, we can protect the health of the American people While also demonstrating moral leadership on the global stage This is not the job of one person or even just the government. It is the job of all of us And I’m excited to get started on my part.”

Jha starts in the new position next month.

 

 

 

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