New York, Dec 7: Indian-origin global health expert Anil Soni has been appointed as the first Chief Executive Officer of the newly launched The WHO Foundation, which works alongside the World Health Organization to address most pressing health challenges across the world.

Soni will assume his role as The WHO Foundation's inaugural Chief Executive Officer on January 1 next year. In his new role, Soni will accelerate the Foundation's "work to invest in innovative, evidence-based initiatives that support WHO in delivering on its mission to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all," the Foundation said in a press statement on Monday.

The WHO Foundation, an independent grant-making agency headquartered in Geneva, was launched in May 2020 to work alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) and the global health community to address the world's most pressing global health challenges.

Soni joins the Foundation from Viatris, a global healthcare company, where he served as Head of Global Infectious Diseases.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described Soni as a proven innovator in global health who has spent two decades in service of communities affected by HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.

He earned my trust when he and his team at the Clinton Health Access Initiative worked side-by-side with the Ministry of Health in Ethiopia to expand access to treatment and strengthen the management of our health centers, Ghebreyesus said adding that Soni has a unique" set of skills that spans the public and private sectors, and his leadership of the Foundation will provide invaluable support to the mission of the WHO and the billions of people who depend on it.

On his appointment, Soni said the world is at a critical juncture for global public health.

After months of combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, there is hope for several successful vaccine candidates. Beyond this crucial step, the path to recovery necessitates expanded investment in the many health priorities that have been compromised in recent months - from drops in vaccine coverage and HIV treatment to delays in cancer treatment, he said, adding that The WHO Foundation represents a unique new opportunity for everyone in the world to play their part in tackling these challenges and in promoting global health, through a strong and vibrant WHO.

Founder and Chairman of the Board of the WHO Foundation Professor Thomas Zeltner said Soni is a dynamic leader" with deep experience across all aspects of global public health.

From his work at Viatris where he has led the development and introduction of medicines to treat HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, to his leadership of the Clinton Health Access Initiative, and his time at the Global Fund (to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria), he has demonstrated his ability to work across public, private, and nonprofit sectors and build successful new organisations from the ground up, Zeltner said.

The WHO Foundation said Soni is a seasoned global health expert , bringing over two decades of experience working across public, private, and nonprofit sectors to expand healthcare access in low and middle-income countries.

In addition to advisory roles with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the MDG Health Alliance, Soni joins the WHO Foundation with a strong track record of mobilising resources and advocating for global health priorities, as demonstrated through his leadership of the Friends of the Global Fight in the United States, the Foundation said.

Soni was closely involved in the early years of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, serving as the Advisor to the Executive Director from 2002-2004 and then as the Founding Executive Director of Friends of the Global Fight from 2004-2005.

He served as the CEO of the Clinton Health Access Initiative, where he worked from 2005-2010, and oversaw the rapid expansion of the organisation.

He has been a senior advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the MDG Health Alliance. He is an alumnus of McKinsey and Harvard College and serves on the board of The Marshall Project.

As a separate legal entity, the WHO Foundation seeks to complement and strengthen the WHO's efforts to address global health. It acts as a platform for new types of public-private engagement, while protecting the WHO's neutrality and independence as the world's leading international health authority.

The Foundation said the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO, which WHO and the UN Foundation launched earlier in 2020, together with the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation, helped test the potential for broader support to WHO by raising USD 238 million in corporate and individual pledges for its and partners' COVID-19 response efforts.

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New Delhi: India's 100 top billionaires have seen their fortunes increase by Rs 12,97,822 crore since March last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country and this amount is enough to give 13.8 crore poorest Indians a cheque for Rs 94,045 each.

The latest India supplement of the Oxfam report 'The Inequality Virus' said it would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what businessman Mukesh Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic and three years to make what he made in a second.

The report has been released on the opening day of the World Economic Forum's 'Davos Dialogues'.

Calling the coronavirus pandemic the world's worst public health crisis in a hundred years, the report said it triggered an economic crisis comparable in scale only with the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"India's 100 billionaires have seen their fortunes increase by Rs 12,97,822 crores since March last year which is enough to give every one of the 138 million poorest Indians a cheque for Rs 94,045 each," the report said.

The new global survey of 295 economists from 79 countries, commissioned by Oxfam, reveals that 87 per cent of respondents, including Jeffrey Sachs, Jayati Ghosh and Gabriel Zucman, expect an "increase" or a "major increase" in income inequality in their country as a result of the pandemic.

"India has the world's fourth lowest health budget in terms of its share of government expenditure," it said. "If India's top 11 billionaires are taxed at just 1 per cent on the increase in their wealth during the pandemic, it will be enough to increase the allocation of Jan Aushadi Scheme by 140 times, which provides affordable medicines to the poor and marginalized."

India introduced one of the earliest and most stringent lockdowns in the face of the pandemic and its enforcement brought the economy to a standstill, triggering unemployment, hunger, distress migration and untold hardship in its wake, the report said.

"The rich were able to escape the pandemic's worst impact; and while the white-collar workers isolated themselves and worked from home, a majority of the not-so-fortunate Indians lost their livelihood," it said.

The report noted that billionaires like Gautam Adani, Shiv Nadar, Cyrus Poonawalla, Uday Kotak, Azim Premji, Sunil Mittal, Radhakrishan Damani, Kumar Manglam Birla and Laxmi Mittal working in sectors like coal, oil, telecom, medicines, pharmaceutical, education and retail increased their wealth exponentially since March 2020 when India announced world's biggest COVID-19 lockdown and economy came to standstill.

On the other hand, data has shown that 170,000 people lost their jobs every hour in the month of April 2020, the report said. Findings of the report showed that rich got richer during the pandemic.

"Data shows what Ambani earned during the pandemic would keep the 40 crore informal workers that are at risk of falling into poverty due to COVID-19 above the poverty line for at least 5 months," the report said.

The wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35 per cent during the lockdown and by 90 per cent since 2009 to USD 422.9 billion, ranking India sixth in the world after the US, China, Germany, Russia and France, it said.

In fact, the report said the increase in wealth of the top 11 billionaires of India during the pandemic could sustain the rural job scheme MGNREGA for 10 years or the Health Ministry for 10 years.

Noting that the informal sector had been the worst hit, the report said out of a total 12.2 crore people who lost their jobs, 75 per cent, which accounts for 9.2 crore jobs, were lost in the informal sector.

"The mass exodus on foot triggered by the sudden lockdown and the inhuman beating, disinfection and quarantine conditions the informal workers were subjected to turned a health emergency into a humanitarian crisis," it said.

"Over 300 informal workers died due to the lockdown, with reasons ranging from starvation, suicides, exhaustion, road and rail accidents, police brutality and denial of timely medical care. The National Human Rights Commission recorded over 2,582 cases of human rights violation as early as in the month of April 2020," the report added.

It noted that the long disruption of schooling risked doubling the rate of out of school, especially among the poor.

"Only 4 per cent of rural households had a computer and less than 15 per cent rural households had an internet connection," it said.

On health inequalities, the report said only 6 per cent of the poorest 20 per cent has access to non-shared sources of improved sanitation, compared to 93.4 per cent of the top 20 per cent. It added that 59.6 per cent of India's population lives in a room or less.

The report said 1.7 crore women lost their job in April 2020 and unemployment for women rose by 15 per cent from a pre-lockdown level.

Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said if not addressed immediately, the crisis could worsen.

"Extreme inequality is not inevitable, but a policy choice. The fight against inequality must be at the heart of economic rescue and recovery efforts now," Behar said.

"Newer and creative ways of catering to the needs of the masses is possible if governments are committed to the needs of its people. It is time for the government of India to take specific and concrete actions that will build a better future, more equal and just a future for everyone," he said.