Can Ashish Jha, ‘a Comforting Voice,’ Tamp Down Covid’s Political Divide? – The New York Times

Dr. Jha was born in Bihar, a state in eastern India that is among the poorest in that country. When he was nine, his parents moved their family to Toronto. He showed up, he told The Providence Journal in an interview last year, “not speaking a word of English.”

The family later moved to New Jersey, where Dr. Jha was valedictorian of his class and editor in chief of the Boonton High School student newspaper. After graduating from Columbia University, he became a student at Harvard Medical School — mostly because his parents wanted him to be a doctor, though he soon decided medical school was “the coolest thing ever.”

After earning a master’s degree in public health, Dr. Jha focused his early research on improving the quality of health care systems, while he continued to practice medicine. But over time, Dr. Frenk said, he became drawn to issues related to global health, and he eventually became the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

While at the institute, Dr. Jha joined Dr. Peter Piot, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in leading an independent examination of the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. His assessment of the World Health Organization was blistering: “The most egregious failure was by W.H.O. in the delay in sounding the alarm,” he said then.

When Dr. Jha left Harvard for Brown in September 2020, the pandemic was already underway — and in the short time since it had taken root, Dr. Jha had already become a media star. He continues to live in Newton, Mass.; Ms. Irani, the Brown spokeswoman, said he intended to move to Washington and take a leave from his job as dean.

In Washington, Dr. Jha will have to “gain the respect and trust” of people like Dr. Fauci, said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, a former Food and Drug Administration official who lived with Dr. Jha when both were studying medicine. Dr. Fauci, for the record, said that he had watched Dr. Jha on TV and that “I haven’t heard him say anything that I wasn’t actually in agreement with.”

Dr. Jha will also have to chart a course through a period that could bring more tumult — and persuade Americans that it is the right one.

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