Prime Minister Imran Khan has appointed Dr Sania Nishtar, a renowned health expert and activist to the post of special assistant to the prime minister on social protection and poverty alleviation with the status of federal minister.
The appointment was announced in a May 14 Cabinet Division notification.
Dr Nishtar possesses impressive credentials, with broad-ranging experience in civil society, government, international development, policy and advocacy, humanitarianism and development, institution building and reform and with firsthand experience setting up institutions, fundraising and partnership building.
The chairperson of the Benazir Income Support Programme and the Poverty Alleviation Coordination Council, Dr Nishtar is a Sitara-i-Imtiaz recipient and also served as a minister in the 2013 caretaker government. She is believed to have played an instrumental role in re-establishing the health ministry during her tenure.
Dr Nishtar established non-profit think tank Heartfile in 1998, an NGO that focuses on analysis and solutions to improve health systems in order to achieve universal health coverage in Pakistan and other developing countries.
She was appreciated multiple times by the prime minister during his announcement of the ambitious Ehsas programme, a social safety and poverty alleviation programme for the welfare of the people.
Dr Nishtar has been described as "eminently qualified and brilliant" by former foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar, and as "extremely capable and experienced in international affairs" by Dr Zulfikar Bhutta, founder of Aga Khan University's Center of Excellence in Women and Child Health.
She was appointed co-chair to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) high-level commission on non-communicable diseases, and as chair to the US National Academy of Sciences initiative on the Quality of Healthcare in low and middle-income countries and heads the United Nations International Institute for Global Health’s Advisory Committee.
She was nominated by the Government of Pakistan in 2015 to succeed Antonio Guterres (now United Nations secretary general) as the High Commissioner for Refugees, and in 2017 to succeed Margaret Chan as the WHO director general.
Dr Nishtar has authored numerous research papers and books. Her latest publication, Choked Pipes is a textbook for post-graduate level studies and a reference guide.
The addition of Dr Nishtar brings the total number of federal cabinet members to 48. The number includes 24 federal ministers, five ministers of state, five advisers to the prime minister. and 14 special assistants to the prime minister.