“My people in Tamil Nadu are very proud,” notes Gounder as her home village celebrates.
Perumapalayam, a small village in Erode district of India’s Tamil Nadu state, is elated over the selection of its ‘daughter’ Dr. Celine Gounder as one of President-elect Joe Biden’s 13 coronavirus advisers.
Gounder, 43, an infectious diseases specialist at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine with experience responding to HIV epidemics around the globe, is the third Indian American member of Biden’s Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board.
Educated at Princeton University, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and University of Washington School of Medicine, Gounder is also an epidemiologist, filmmaker, and medical journalist.
Co-chaired by Vivek Murthy, who served as surgeon general under President Barack Obama, Biden’s task force includes one more Indian American health expert, Dr. Atul Gawande, professor at Harvard Medical School and surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
US-born Gounder’s mother is from Normandy, France. Her Indian Tamil father, Raj Natarajan Gounder moved to the US in the late 1960s and worked at the Boeing Company as an aerospace engineer.
Unlike Indian American Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, whose relatives left their ancestral village decades ago, Gounder has visited Perumapalayam several times and established a foundation in her father’s name in 2018.
RELATED: Vivek Murthy named co-chair of Biden covid-19 advisory board (November 9, 2020)
The Raj Gounder Foundation supports children’s education and helps the government-run Modakurichi Boys Higher Secondary School where her father studied.
My people in Tamil Nadu, India are very proud,” noted Gounder on Twitter on Tuesday sharing screenshots of articles in Indian news media about her appointment.
My people in Tamil Nadu, India are very proud: pic.twitter.com/xtFzCFNrdM
— Céline Gounder, MD, ScM, FIDSA (@celinegounder) November 10, 2020
In another twitter post Gounder explained why she had retained her caste name as her surname.
“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.
“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,” she added.
Gounder’s cousin S Thangavel, a retired Tamil Nadu Water and Drainage Board employee, who resides in her father’s village, told The New Indian Express that her achievement has been the talk of the village for the last two days.
“Our family is very proud of her. Children and the residents fondly remember Celine’s visit to the village,” he was quoted as saying.
Devaraj Nallasivam, secretary of the Raj Gounder Foundation, told the Express Gounder’s achievements had given hope to youngsters to do their part in making the world a better place. They are eagerly awaiting her next visit, he said.
“She has been actively supporting around 30 disabled children who are part of the Inclusive Education for Differently-Abled children (IED) center in the village,” he said.
It is an honor and privilege to be called on to serve and support President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris. We must care for one another. We must heal. We must unite against COVID. https://t.co/EHbOAPpswc
— Céline Gounder, MD, ScM, FIDSA (@celinegounder) November 9, 2020
Realizing that children would miss out on nutritious meals due to schools being closed during the covid lockdown, Gounder “directed us to deliver grocery kits at their doorstep to ensure children could access a healthy diet.”
“Even before the lockdown was announced in India, she made us aware about covid-19 and sent the villagers guidelines on how to stay safe and prevent the spread of the disease,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and leader of the opposition DMK party MK Stalin came together to wish Gounder on Tuesday.
Congratulating both Gounder and Karnataka origin Murthy, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami wrote, “I’m extremely happy that @celinegounder & @vivek_murthy have been appointed in the National Pandemic Taskforce of US to combat #COVID19.
“Both of them have made India proud and I’m very glad to learn that Dr Celine Gounder has a Tamil heritage. My best wishes to both of them,” he tweeted.
In a Facebook post, DMK leader MK Stalin wrote: “Glad to hear about the appointment of Celine Gounder to the President-elect Joe Biden’s National Pandemic Taskforce to combat Covid-19. Happy to hear about the appointment of a woman of Tamil origin to this crucial task force. Congratulations and Best wishes.”