- One of the leading public health experts in the country, the Indian American is known for his "wise and calming public presence," President Biden said announcing his appointment.
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, is set to replace Jeffrey D. Zients as the White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, President Biden announced today (March 17). The appointment begins on April 5.
Biden said 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.” He said Jha “is the perfect person for the job to execute on the president’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan and managing the ongoing risks from COVID, as we enter a new moment in the pandemic.”
In addition to his role as dean and public health scholar, Jha is a practicing physician with expertise in infectious diseases. He was appointed to lead the 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.
He is a globally recognized expert on pandemic preparedness and response as well as on health policy research and practice. 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 policymakers. He has participated in Congressional hearings on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, he advised the White House on the President’s national COVID-19 preparedness plan.
The New York Times, quoting officials, said Jha’s “background as a medical doctor makes him the right choice as the virus becomes more an endemic part of the country’s health challenges.”
According to The Washington Post, “Biden’s selection of Jha, praised by administration officials and allies as a pragmatic communicator, also reflects the administration’s belief that the pandemic is moving to a new stage where the United States must accept some level of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, much as it does for other respiratory viruses.”
“Throughout this pandemic, we have worked at Brown to improve public understanding and information, and inform policy at every level of government here and around the globe,” Jha said in a university press release. “I am honored to accept President Biden’s invitation to serve and continue that work. I do so confident that the work of the Brown School of Public Health will advance around critical issues including pandemic preparedness and key initiatives we have launched and are growing, to improve understanding and policy in key public health issues, and train the next generation of public health leaders.”
Brown announced that Jha will take leave for a short-term assignment to serve in the critical federal government role.
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.
Jha joined Brown after 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.
He was born in Pursaulia in Bihar in 1970. He moved to Canada in 1979 and then to the United States in 1983. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Columbia University in 1992 and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1997, before training 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 healthcare 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.
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 several roles at the federal level, including as a 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.