Céline Gounder of Tamil Origin Part of Biden’s COVID-19 Task Force
Dr Céline Gounder’s father Raj Natarajan Gounder hails from Perumpalayam village near Erode, Tamil Nadu.
The first woman and the first woman of South-Asian origin to become the 46th Vice President of the United States has her roots in Tamil Nadu. Kamala Harris is also first black woman and the first woman of Indian-origin to serve at such a position in the government.
Another Indian connection is Dr Céline Gounder, of Tamil origin, who is one of the 13 doctors named by President-elect Joe Biden as part of his coronavirus advisory board.
She is a practicing HIV/infectious diseases specialist and internist, epidemiologist (aka disease detective), journalist and filmmaker.
What is in a Name?
Her Indian roots trace back to her father, Raj Natarajan Gounder, who hails from Perumpalayam near Erode, Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu Opposition party DMK President MK Stalin tweeted a congratulatory message, “Happy to hear about the appointment of a woman of Tamil origin to this crucial task force.”
Dr Céline shared an article about how Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia wilfully mispronounced Kamala Harris' name, stating that “Americans still today have difficulty pronouncing foreign-sounding names.”
Explaining her Indian connect in her name, she explained, “Many ask why I use the caste name Gounder as my last name. My father immigrated to the USA in the 1960s. Americans had a hard time saying Natarajan. Gounder was easier for them to pronounce,” she said in a tweet.
Gounder is a dominant caste in the western belt of Tamil Nadu, in the districts of Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode, Namakkal and Salem.
“My father changed his name to Gounder in the early 1970s before I was born. My name is my name. It’s part of my history and identity, even if some of that history is painful. I didn’t change my name when I got married. I’m not changing it now.”Dr Céline Gounder on Twitter
She also shared screenshots of media coverage in Indian channels and said, “My people in Tamil Nadu, India very proud.’
An Advocate to Serve the Disadvantaged
Born in 1977, she was educated at Princeton University, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and University of Washington School of Medicine.
She is a post-doctoral fellow in Infectious Diseases and received a master’s of science in epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University. Since 2018, she has been discussing concerns with health issues as a medical journalist and in 2017 she was named one of People Magazine's 25 Women Changing the World, for her contribution to medicine and public health, according to her website.
She co-founded the International Health Group, which advocates for doctors to serve in economically disadvantaged people in the world.
She was the director for delivery for the Gates Foundation-funded Consortium to Respond Effectively to the AIDS/TB Epidemic and later served as assistant commissioner and director of the Bureau of Tuberculosis Control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, according to her NYU bio.
Indian-Origin Doctors Hold Key Roles
One of the key members to lead the board is Dr Vivek Murthy, the former US surgeon general who was made to resign by the Donald Trump administration in 2017.
Murthy was sworn in as the 19th US surgeon general in 2014, in a ceremony presided over by then-vice president Biden.
His family hailed from Hallegere, in the Mandya district of Karnataka. His father was a physician who came from a family of farmers and migrated to the United States after spending a few years in the United Kingdom.
Another Indian part of the team is Dr Atul Gawande is a surgeon and Harvard professor who won a MacArthur ‘genius grant’ in 2006 for his work.
He has written four New York Times best selling books: Complications, Better, The Checklist Manifesto, and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End and is a staff writer at The New Yorker.
He also runs the Ariadne Labs, a joint centre for health systems innovation, and Lifebox, an NGO that aims to make surgery safer globally, according to his website.
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